Friday, August 5th - from Gondelsheim/Edinburgh
This is the description of my next trip to the land of the Scots, and since I was determined to visit the Highland Tattoo in Edinburgh which takes places over about 3 and a half weeks, every year in August, my travel date was almost certain and I booked a flight quite early. Since spring that year, Easyjet had been offering flights from Stuttgart to Edinburgh which I liked pretty much, Stuttgart being only about 1 hour by car from my place.
Actually, I had planned to let somebody drive me to the airport in order to avoid annoying parking search and fees, but then I found out that there was a big road construction site on the Autobahn A8 towards Stuttgart, leading to big traffic jams and a friend of mine talked me into taking the train. This was really a very good idea, my train ticket cost only about 20 € and thus my younger daughter drove me by car to the train station in Bruchsal. The ICE took only half an hour to Stuttgart, there I had to walk along the S21 construction site to the tram station in the lower level of the old railway building. There was enough time until the train left and it took only another 15 minutes to get to the airport where I arrived under the terminal and got upstairs in an escalator, completely relaxed. Once again, I had only my small suitcase, suitable as hand luggage (nothing of the sort: women and too much luggage!), my purse and two jackets with me, which I just wore both. Flying with Ryanair or Easyjet makes really no big difference, but the price was cheap, however almost the only possibility to get from Stuttgart to Edinburgh.
On my arrival, warm and sunny summer weather welcomed me with about 25°, so my first thing to do outside was to take off my jackets and inform my family on WhatsApp about the circumstances, as they kept joking about bad Scottish weather... For this time, I had paid attention on booking my rental car with one of the companies in the rental car centre next to the terminal. Thus, I had to walk only 400-500 metres from the exit to the left and to the octagon where the rental car centre is. My rental company told me that I would have a much bigger car than ordered but they had no smaller one with automatic gear and satnav available. Besides, they recommended an upgrade of the insurance, although I already had booked full comprehensive cover. The reason was that according to British laws, the excess amounting to 1200 pound was to be paid also if a possible accident happened through no fault of mine. I refused to believe that although the accountant confirmed twice, declined the upgrade and hoped for the best.
In the car park, I almost couldn’t believe my eyes: My booking was for a small car, size BMW1, the upgrade for the satnav included the size of a BMW3, but I faced a big Jaguar limousine! The staff member shrugged his shoulders, told me again “no other one available” and I was about to decline. I already knew the small minor roads in Great Britain that tend to be even smaller in the Scottish Highlands. But the only other option would have been a car without satnav or automatic gear and this was absolutely no option! So, I accepted the car and took pictures all around (this is a MUST!) and there were already small scratches on every section, no big ones, but anyway. But the inside of the car was even more impressive: White leather seats and noble equipment, automatic gear with a turning knob, really top luxury class.
So, I put my ridiculously small suitcase into the trunk, got into that big flashy car which was going to be my rolling home for the next 9 days, programmed the satnav with my first destination (list!) and started most carefully.
This time, I had had a morning flight so I had half a day to spend. The Apex at Haymarket was easy to find, had a car park as promised which I mandatorily needed for my rental car and a tiny reception on ground level. Both young employees at reception were very helpful and helped me by lending me a power socket adapter because I had mine forgotten – at home. It’s really strange but despite lists, many thoughts and good preparation, there’s always something to be forgotten.
The room was quite small, but clean and beautifully furnished. Now I want to explain why I chose this very hotel: Actually, I had wanted to return to the Apex at Grassmarket where I had a very pleasant stay in 2015 and which is centrally located beneath the Edinburgh Castle. Then, in September 2015, I had paid about 120 pounds, but now, in August, they charged about the triple! This seemed me slightly too expensive and I had to consider a hotel more distant to the castle and the city centre and I chose the Grassmarket in the east which still cost more than 200 pounds, just for one night, but anyway. It was August, not only time of the Tattoo, but also of the festival and I soon would find out what that meant...
Only a few metres to the left, there was a Tesco Express, meaning the small shops mostly in city centres, not as big as the giant Tesco markets, usually located on city borders, and which are so huge that one can easily get lost within. But in this Tesco Express, I found everything I needed and what I didn’t have with me for the reason of time or space: shampoo, insect and sun protection (yes, I know I was in Scotland, but even here the sun would shine now and then!), water, bread/rolls, sausage and cheese, apples and all the other things necessary for the next days, just no adapter, unfortunately.
I brought my prey to my car, took the bus towards city centre und got off at Princes Street, located at the borders of the pedestrian zone with many big multiple-shops and stores. Directly to the right was the Princes Street Garden, beneath the castle, lying in a relatively deep valley. That’s were in times before public canalisation all the water, rain and sewage ran down to and this is said to be the reason why this terrain is so fertile.
I had a little walk through the garden until I found myself in front of an unusual, baroque looking building and found out that this was the Scott Monument, built in honour of the famous Scottish poet and novelist Sir Walter Scott living in mid-19th century. They often call him the Scottish national novelist and at his time, he was the most read author. There are steps inside to climb upstairs and have a great view over the garden and the new town.
Now I took a turn to the right into a road named “The Mound”, leading in a big bow and getting more and more steep upwards, until I could walk in small steps forward only, towards Lawnmarket, right below the castle. This was the Royal Mile, leading from the Edinburgh Castle uphill down to Holyrood Palace and here on this road, there was plenty going on. Not only were there numerous shops with souvenirs, Scottish clothing like kilts, shawls and such, but also a small artisan and craftsman market as well as metal barriers for the line-up of the members of the Tattoo which would take place in the evening for the very first time in that year. First, I took a walk through some of the shops, searching for a replacement for my Scotland tea cup which, most regrettably, had been broken in winter. It was quite a search – but eventually I found it, my heart is really hanging on that little piece because this shape has just more character than standard cups that you can buy everywhere. In the same shop, I also found a cloak in the same tartan as my dark blue and green costume (Diana Gabaldon’s cameo as Iona MacTavish in episode 104), named “Black Watch” as I also know since then. Pure wool (hopefully!). It was reduced and now the price was only expensive and not very expensive anymore and I hoped this cloak would keep me warm in the evening on the Tattoo’s tribune. They also had a Fraser needle that I bought to fasten the cloak on the shoulder, made of silver and not cheap either, but it’s just money, so what?
The artisan market on West Parliament square in front of the Cathedral was next to catch my attention, one booth offering medieval jewellery and particularly one silver ring with an enormous and unusual stone. Unfortunately, the ring was really expensive and the diameter seemed to be too small, so I sent my husband a picture and postponed the decision.
I turned from High Street to George IV Bridge which actually is a street crossing further down, 4 stories high on Cowgate and right after that, there’s a café named “The Elephant House”, famous for being the place where Joanne K. Rowling wrote her first Harry Potter book while she was living from supplementary benefit and needing a warm place to write. Nothing special, looked like a very normal café but with a bright red facade.
After strolling through the festival activities on Lawnmarket again, I found the steps near The Hub downstairs towards Grassmarket, knowing there was a bus station to get back to my hotel.
I wanted to take a shower, get dressed and book a table in a very special restaurant in Edinburgh: Fisher's in Thistle Street. (For those who need details, please check my report from Saturday/2015). When I called, it seemed a little difficult to get a table in that restaurant, it was said to be fully booked and explained with the festival, but I kept pledging and asked for a seat on the bar which they confirmed and Graham would be there, too – perfect!
In order to make it easier to arrive in time, I ordered a taxi to the restaurant. After all, I also wanted to be in time at the castle for the Tattoo at 9 p.m. und eat comfortably before, however. As promised, I got my seat on the bar (like last year) and could order my meal. Slowly, the restaurant got fuller. This is a small part of the menu for you to see and for me to remember what I had ordered:
While waiting for the soup, Graham already had some time, which meant incredible luck to me since he still worked as an extra in Outlander and as a waiter in this restaurant and he was working on that very evening. This time, he was only allowed to talk about season 2 (that had already aired in Germany), but nothing about season 3 (that had finished shooting until then), I’m looking forward to searching for him in that season, too. In season 2, he played for example the English soldier who’s immobilized by fear, lying on the ground after the battle of Prestonpans, when the camera fades out and you can see him also in other scenes.
After dinner, I walked to the castle for the Tattoo, it’s only a few blocks, nothing that I couldn’t do by foot. From The Mound on, it was very steep, the last part was mostly old steps and until then, almost everybody was out of breath. The staircase lead to a small close on the crossroads in front of The Hub (a former church, but now museum and festival location). However, I was not allowed to turn towards the castle yet, there were barriers across the crossroads downhill and many guards standing, so I had to go all around the barriers until the end of the line and join the queue. Only a few minutes later it started to rain, the first people put on their jackets, opened their umbrellas or put over their plastic capes like those that we know from fun parks in Germany - and I had only my wool cloak with me. I recognized I had made a big mistake, I had taken the day’s good weather for granted, sunny and warm all day, and I had only the cloak with me for the colder late evening, so I wasn’t prepared for rain. I also had an umbrella – lying in my suitcase in the hotel, didn’t help me at all. Now I couldn’t leave the crowd anymore as the barriers were fixed together on the side and I couldn’t walk faster than the crowd and the guards allowed, proceeding only slowly. People around me kept telling me that my beautiful wool cloak would become matted, but I simply refused to believe that. After almost half an hour, I had proceeded far enough to a souvenir shop by the right side, asked a guard and got permission to leave the queue for a minute to buy myself a rain cape in the shop, the price really didn’t matter at that moment. Just a little late, now that I already was soaked. I waited under the Tattoo tribune as long as I could to avoid sitting in the rain as long as possible. There were many, many steps upstairs to my seat where I had a really good view all over. The seats were wet, too, now I understood that this was the purpose of those small rectangular plastic parts that had been distributed in the yard, but since I didn’t know that before, I had none taken and I didn’t want to climb all the steps down and up again with my bad knees, so I stayed put and sat on the back of my cloak and the plastic cover that I had in my purse.
The Tattoo itself was an absolutely unique, impressive experience, full of show, music, dance, artistry with motorbikes etc. that I cannot tell everything in detail, exciting and heartbreaking, but who’s interested, there are several good videos on youtube shot from the castle wall above.
The show took about two hours into dark night and the fireworks in the end was only one of many top events.
For my way back, I took once again the steps down towards Grassmarket to catch a bus or taxi there, but there were no buses anymore and all my way back, I had no success to catch a free taxi, so willy-nilly, I walked all the way back, almost 2 kilometres.
Saturday, August 6th - from Edinburgh
Breakfast in the Apex hotel took place in the restaurant enclosed with view to the main road. Guests could order eggs, coffee, tea etc., everything else was available on the buffet, small but very good, everything quite fresh and suitable to the standard, so really recommendable. After breakfast I checked out, loaded my stuff into my rental car and – started my satnav.
Once more – like last year – I have to praise the British postcode system, working very precisely and mostly leading me to the very place or building where I wanted to get to and so incredibly fast when programming a satnav. A code consisting of 6-8 letters and digits is so much faster to type in than city, street and house number. The satnav is able to work with both possibilities, of course but I rarely used it. In those cases where I didn’t trust in the satnav - and this did also happen - I additionally worked with Google maps on my cell phone.
But the most important: Good preparation at home is mandatory. I did as much research as I could to find out where I wanted to go, in which order I could do this best, collected some information on each location when necessary and most of all, have all the postcodes on a list that I can put, together with all the other things that I need on the road, onto the passenger’s seat and have them handy.
Ok now, let’s go!
For the very first, I had to buy myself a new Scotland map at a gas station because mine got lost in the rain on the Tattoo tribune, probably sashayed through the steps somehow, anyway, it was gone and I urgently needed a new one to fill in all my travel destinations that I had on a list (printed word document) with numbers and I had to put all these numbers on the new map again. This was an immense support in planning because it helped me to identify where I wanted to go.
It was early Saturday morning; the weather was sunny and it was going to be a warm day. As my first destination of the day, I chose Rosslyn Chapel, for several reasons. One, there had been shooting for episode 109 The Reckoning in the park nearby, two, this famous medieval chapel is one of the places where they shot for „Sakrileg – The Da Vinci Code“ with Tom Hanks. And even if this wasn’t the case, this chapel is unique und absolutely amazing. To get there, I drove through a lush landscape on a small windy road with many narrow turns, passing Roslin Glen Country Park and uphill to the car park of the chapel. Access to the chapel was possible only via it’s visitor centre which didn’t open until 10 a.m. Eventually, we could come in and enter the area passing the small church garden, into the chapel which is really tiny, very small and so beautiful, crammed with small stone ornaments of ivy, flowers and incredibly many faces, angels and grimaces, portrayals from the bible and the contemporary medieval life. The guide showed us so many remarkable details, because the decoration was so manifold, some are really funny, but the most impressive part to me was the roof. Most church roofs have columns leading up and where they meet, there is a keystone, but this roof consists of uncountable little stone rosettes, a precious jewel and absolutely worth visiting and seeing! Clearly a MUST for each visitor of Scotland.
After my visit to the chapel, I took the path downhill to Roslin Castle. The friendly ticket seller in the visitor centre had given me directions. The path led straight downhill on country road. The castle was but a small ruin. A little higher on the street, there were steps to the side, leading deep down the hill into the forest. First, the steps are out of wood, then just stamped earth with a wood blocking and I carefully minded my steps. Far down towards the river, I could see the river, crossed a small bridge crossing a gap and reached the river, lying in a dreamful, peaceful valley, but I couldn’t identify something reminding me of a shooting place. Months later, I read about a place nearby named Wallace’s Cave, somewhere up the river, might be that was it. I’d give it a look next time. But however, the pretty environment had made my little trip worth visiting and I made myself ready for the long and sudatory climbing uphill.
I also checked the entry to the Roslin Glen Country Park, but there was but a parking to see and I had no hint where to go, nothing that told me where to look further, and so I just gave that up. (Please look car tour 2017).
My list took me further southeast to the famous Melrose Abbey, the ruin of a big cistercian monastery from 12th century. Many Scottish kings from medieval times are buried there, even the embalmed heart of Robert the Bruce is said to be lying there. When buying my ticket, I got an audio guide that instructed while wandering through the ruins, one building is still upright, survived many war times, but for more than 400 years, there have no monks been living there anymore.
Next, I made a side trip deep to the south, beyond British borders to Carlisle. I was about to getting used to my big car with its numerous technical frippery, some I tried one after another, but usually, I stick with the settings as long as it works and they don’t annoy me. At one point, I saw in the display a warning about tyre pressure on the rear left tyre, but the value shown didn’t help me out. I decided not to ignore this, but I was way too far from the car rental to drive back to them, couldn’t get them on the phone either and decided to stop by a gas station and ask for advice. The young girl at the cashier had absolutely no idea how to help, but sent me to a tyre centre in the industrial zone nearby, just around the corner. It was a huge building with six work stations, I asked at reception and could drive in immediately after. Two young, very friendly mechanics set about checking pressure in all tyres, the on-board computer and consulted the manual until, after more than half an hour, everything was set to the finest (according to the manual, every tyre needed a slightly different pressure!) and they finished work successfully, respectively it seemed as if there had been no real mistake at all... so they just optimized it. However, I got no invoice, the two mechanics told me “it’s just air” and I felt somehow helpless for after all, they had together been investing more than a working hour, both even friendly but flatly refused a tip. Actually, I had been afraid of a hefty bill. Grateful and calmer in my heart, I could continue my trip south, towards England.
Some might wonder but the shooting for the hanging scenes in
episode 115 really took place in an English castle, Carlisle Castle. There was a car park just behind the castle when driving into the city, I just had to walk a few hundred metres back. Since the
trouble with the tyre and the long drive had cost quite a lot of time, I didn’t want to stay too long. Just when I bought the ticket at the gate, the saleswoman told me details about the shooting,
she had been working on that very day and remembered exactly where the actors had been standing (in the left corner of the inner courtyard), where she was and the big camera (on the left side up the
And maybe I’m wrong, but the trench on the outer courtyard strongly reminded me of the place where the “dead” were lying when Claire fell upon them.
A wee walk back to my car and I was on the road again, northern. My prepaid hour parking time had been sufficient and I had no ticket to pay. One year earlier, I got one at Windsor Castle at 70 pounds (!), although we had looked out when leaving our car. This had been really expensive and the exchange then had made it even more expensive (almost 100 €), and I couldn’t avoid paying it, as the rental company told me, for if I did not pay, the ticket would go to the rental company and they would charge me further which would make it even more expensive. But if I paid within 14 days, I got a discount of 50 %. Well, that’s what I did then, but further on, I was even more careful!
My way back to Scotland took me through the small but world-famous village named Gretna Green just beyond Scottish borders, there are still a few signposts reminding of the glorious past, but I couldn’t find anything spectacular.
Next was Caerlaverock Castle near Dumfries which is the only trigonal moated castle in Scotland, thus not lying on a rock or in the mountains but in a flat area. Quite effective in defence, it was beleaguered for several times, but never conquered, the walls and towers were just too well-fortified. However, there was no secret way outside and thus no way for flight. Open to the public!
There was one castle in particular that I wanted to visit on that day, Drumlanrig Castle, where they shot some scenes in the garden and in a few rooms, namely the parlour (of the Duke of Sandringham), but everybody will immediately recognize the front yard where many soldier’s tents have been standing in TV. Unfortunately, the way through the gaunt mountains to the castle was very long, deep down to the south of Dumfries and Galloway which is quite a big district, the castle lies proverbially in the middle of nowhere and when I eventually arrived, it was almost 5 p.m., the castle was closed for the day and I had come in vain because there was no access anymore. So, I drove all the way back and then to the north, towards Glasgow.
While on the way, I wanted to visit one of the water falls on my list, the Falls of Clyde near Lanark. The falls consist of 4 steps in total, located in a nature reserve with many animals, so to say beavers, otters and many birds. I had to leave my car on a parking at the borders of the city, next to the power station, then there is a comfortable footpath along the left side of the river. The first falls are after about 100 meters walk, the really big falls are about 30 minutes of hiking. There are many presentation boards lining the path, explaining the flora and fauna.
My way took me further towards Glasgow, but in between, I stopped whenever I caught a beautiful view, such as this magnificent gatehouse on a bridge.
Eentually, I arrived in Glasgow to search a hotel for the night which would be my station for the next day and more western destinations.
While on my way, I had tried to book a room, e.g. at the Albion Hotel which had very good online ratings, but it was fully booked for this night and available only for the next night. Well, I had already seen in Edinburgh how a festival could affect hotel rooms and bookings, but I hadn’t expected something similar in Glasgow and its outskirts. Meanwhile, I had arrived in the city and stopped by hotel after hotel, without success, it was August and thus high season. With the assistance of my cell phone GPS, I started calling one hotel after another, sometimes I ended even on the same hotlines because many hotels belonged to the same owning company and even that took much time. I already imagined myself sleeping in my car. Desperate as I was, I actually called the five-star Hilton Hotel nearby, but even this one was fully booked! Eventually, when I was about to give up, I found a room at 150 (!) pounds per night in the ultra-modern Village Ibis Hotel Glasgow, located in the west of Glasgow, next to the bridge to BBC. A very friendly receptionist, the same one who had confirmed my booking on the phone, a brand new four-star hotel with restaurant, where I got a really good burger for dinner, finished a quite eventful day.
Sunday, August 7th - from Glasgow
This new day was a Sunday, going to fully live up to its name. The friendly young woman at reception showed me on the city map where to find the next electronic shop so that I would finally find an adapter for the sockets. It was only a few blocks away, just over the bridge next to BBC to a PC centre. Unfortunately, the shop didn’t open at 9 as expected, but at 10, so I had some more time to spend; drove by car through an almost empty city, by the old Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum, of which some people say it looked like Hogwarts from Harry Potter, visited the famous Kelvinbridge from above and below, this is a very old copper bridge across the river Kelvin, a small but wild river in a small but long park with a wonderful touching atmosphere. Quite a few people were already up and walking or jogging through the park, walking their dogs or using this as a short track for their way.
At 10, just when the computer shop opened which looked just like our German Media Markt, only smaller, I got in and finally bought myself an adapter which I needed quite urgently now, most of all for my cell phone.
After that, I took the same way back again to my church, just next to Kelvinbridge and the Albion B&B, where I had already booked a hotel for the following night. Slowly, I knew my way in this neighbourhood...
I attended a moving church service, was allowed to play the organ afterwards (helping my “withdrawal symptoms”) and got a wonderful gift from their principal: an English hymnal, something I had hoped for really long. I had wanted to buy one, but he gave it to me as a present! They also invited me to stay for lunch snacks, but I had to proceed, it was almost noon and the way to Drumlanrig Castle fairly long.
The way lead on motorway A74 southeast and on A702 through the Lowther Hills which felt almost like being in the Highlands, just that I was too far in the south.
Somewhere along the way, I just left my car and shot pictures all around, trying to catch the wideness and the loneliness of the landscape which put me into some quite special mood.
Before reaching the castle, the road took me through thick forest. When the forest ended, there was a cattle grid in front of an old stone bridge, I had to slow down and saw to my right, unexpectedly, this small piece of jewellery, this tiny house:
Located completely isolated, there’s far and wide no other house, but it was a MUST to take a picture of this small gardener’s house.
This day, I approached Drumlanrig
Castle from the alley side which was very impressive. The car park was free and there were a few adjacent buildings, including some shops, crafters etc. where I also could buy
my ticket, the next guided tour was going to start soon. I was in a group of about 14 persons and we started our tour on the imposing outside staircase. During shooting, there had been many tents in
the front courtyard, but this had left no traces. Inside the building, photographing unfortunately was forbidden. We were told lots of interesting stories about the building and its (former)
inhabitants, one of the ancestors named James Douglas was a friend of Robert the Bruce, buried in Dunfermline Abbey. The guide
also showed us the carpet on which we were standing, with many hearts on it and told us how the legend of the “flying heart” was created. When James Douglas was about to bring his dead friend’s heart
to the Holy Country, their troop was trapped in Spain and killed in a battle. The legend goes that he threw the cask with the heart and screamed “fly heart, fly”. After that, the family was allowed
to carry the heart in their family crest. The cask with the heart was found later and buried at Melrose Abbey that I visited
already. While she told us the story, the guide also showed us the protection for the carpet that had been printed exactly in the same pattern and thus covered invisibly the path that we took when
walking on the carpet. The family’s story was long and interesting, anyway, nowadays, the castle is owned by one of the richest families in the country, the Montague-Douglas-Scott and today’s head of
the family is the 10. Duke of Buccleuch.
She also told us about the shootings for Outlander and showed to interested visitors (like me) where exactly this had happened, for example in the parlour and in the stairwell. Surely you remember the scene when Claire uses a secret door und appears behind a huge oil painting? This painting is hanging above the stairs that she sneaks down. This shooting alone took half a day.
When I left, I got another advice that there had been more shooting, down by the old bridge across the river, which I would cross again anyway on my way back to civilization, so I stopped by and took a few pictures. This should be the bridge where the Highlanders rest for a while after the battle, until they get attacked again by the English and find refuge in the small chapel.
Next on my list, I searched for Barskimming that I had found online as the place where some scenes playing before the battle of Prestonpans had been shot, but my satnav and the postcode led only to a residential area, no hint where to go. I would do some more research on this later.
The last destination for that day was nearby, Dean Castle, located in Dean Castle Park in Kilmarnock. „Dean“ means wooded valley. There had been shooting for the episode The fox’ lair when Jamie and Claire visit his paternal grandfather, Lord Simon Fraser. The castle is about 300 years old and inhabited, but open to the public – but unfortunately, not on that day. It was only short past 4 p.m. and closed already. So, all I could do was to walk all around and take a few pictures, then I went to the visitor centre searching for the restrooms and met a nice lady from staff, remembering the shootings. I would be back next year, of course!
Now that it was too late to visit another place and I drove back to my next stay, the Albion Hotel where I had booked for the night. This is located in the west of Glasgow, just near the Great Western Road and next to Kelvinbridge, in a row of houses facing the river Kelvin. Since the road is a dead end to the main road, you need to drive in from the backside, thus there’s almost no traffic in that road, just residents. There is no parking for guests of the hotel, just a few parking spaces along the road, with a ticket machine where I could pull a free ticket until 8 a.m. No problem anyway, I’d be on tour early as usual. The hotel, more like a B&B, had top online ratings und thus was fully booked quite often, consisting of two houses aside, quite old-fashioned, but neat. My room was sufficient for one person, with a new ensuite shower and not expensive. The landlady also gave me some advice on possibilities for shopping and dinner.
Since all these were within walking distance, I took no car and walked along the Great Western Road towards city centre. First, I found a Tesco Express; these supermarkets are small copies of the huge shopping centres, but they carry everything you need for daily shopping and some more. I could restore my stocks on bread/rolls, turkey breast and cheese. There were also some restaurants along the road, one of them even a former, rebuilt church, but not open until 10 p.m. In a side road, I found the „Old School“, rebuilt to a pub with burgers, snooker and TV, but the food offered didn’t please me. So, I ended up in a classy Italian restaurant nearby with an interesting view to the street, a delicious soup and lasagne and many Italian memorabilia on the walls. Just a little up the hill, there was a pub at the corner where I finished the evening with a good whisky and entertainment. After all, I didn’t have to drive anymore, just to find my way back to the hotel. This was no problem at all, not even with another... and a third whisky.
Monday, August 8th - from Glasgow
The following Monday morning was reserved for sights in Glasgow, first the Glasgow Botanic
Garden, only a few hundred meters down Great Western Road. With some
luck, I found a parking space along the road, across the entrance to the park, time was limited to 1 hour. The Botanic Garden is well worth visiting, admission is free. I think, the pictures can show
how beautiful it was.
The greenhouses opened only at 9.30, which didn’t leave me much time, considering my short remaining parking time, so I couldn’t visit all of them and went for the big one near the entrance which reminded me of the art nouveau. There were several areas, one for each continent. If you come to Glasgow and happen to have one hour spare, you should visit this place!
Now I took over to the other side of the city to visit Necropolis next to the Cathedral. This is how the Glaswegians call their historic main cemetery, the “city of the dead” (Greek). Nowadays, nobody is buried here anymore, there is a new cemetery. It started to rain and I had no umbrella handy, so I left this place (please see bus tour 2017).
Just across the bridge, there is the famous St. Mungo’s Cathedral, also called the High Kirk of Glasgow. It’s a gothic building from 13th century and a former seat of a bishop, thus the designation “cathedral” isn’t correct anymore, more as kind of a honorary title. I was mostly interested in the Lower Crypt, meaning the basement with its beautiful archways, where they shot for the Parisian scenes in the hospital for the poor „L'Hôpital des Anges“ with Claire and Mother Hildegarde (named after Hildegard von Bingen, a German nun and abbess) (please look also bus tour 2017).
Opposite to the cathedral, there is the oldest remaining house of Glasgow, Provant’s Lordship House, built in 1471. The saying goes that already Mary Queen of Scots and her father dined here.
Now, I returned to the west of Glasgow, to the Old Victoria Infirmary, a shut-down old hospital. A few weeks ago, there had been shooting for the hospital scenes with Claire and Joe Abernathy, but on that day, there was nothing to be seen anymore, so I left it to one photo.
After this, I had planned on visiting the Glasgow Lighthouse which is, of course, no real lighthouse as there is no sea nearby, but a restaurant with a look-out, only it was almost noon and the traffic was horrific, typical major city since after all, Glasgow has about 600.000 inhabitants and it seemed they were all on the road at the same time. There was absolutely no parking space to be found, not with this big rental car I had; with a smaller car, there would have been a few, so I tried my luck in a multi-storey car park which was an almost traumatic experience. The way was winding up over 6 stories in very small windings and so narrow that my distance meter kept beeping all the time, thus I proceeded only in centimetres and most carefully to prevent the car from damages. There were already many scratches and black stripes to the walls and crash barriers, witnesses of some of my not so successful predecessors. 6 stories up and down again, I couldn’t find an appropriate parking space and had to leave the place undone, frazzled and soaked with sweat, but successful in one aspect: the car remained undamaged.
On my way western towards city borders, I once again saw the City Hall tower and George Square, here are some pics from inside my car.
My main destination for the day was the magnificentg countryside northwest from Glasgow. The landscape was beautiful with rolling hills, no mountains yet, but reminding me of where I live. I came along a hill named „The Queen’s View“, but not the famous one on my list which was yet to come; I knew it to be somewhere different. However, this one included some climbing, a group was just on their way.
I hadn’t planned on that, or at least I wasn’t aware of it, but more and more, I recognized that I knew the scenery and that I had been here the year before already. Even before I could come to a conclusion, I took a turn to the right, recognized a small bridge and saw 3 young people walking along the road and immediately knew what they were up to. As a spur-of-the-moment decision, I stopped, opened the window and asked them whether they were going down the gorge and they confirmed. I asked them to wait 2 or 3 minutes, parked my car at the crossroads nearby that I also knew from last year and hasted catching up with them. They had been waiting for me, two young men and a girl in their twenties, from Great Britain.
Okay, I have to explain for all those who don’t know what this is about: Finnich Glen, also called Devil’s Pulpit, near Killearn. This is the marvellous canyon, standing for St. Ninian’s spring, where everyone who drinks of and doesn’t tell the truth will fall sick and die from burnt guts. Dougal takes Claire there to test her and to explain that her only salvation will be in marrying a Scot – Jamie!
I had been there the year before (who wants to read about this adventure – please read tour 2015) and since then, I had read some more about the access to the gorge. There are sites in the internet describing the steps down and a helpful rope that had been attached to help people climbing down the old steps. Okay, this sounds quite easy when you read it. First of all, already the way to the steps isn’t easy at all, you have to climb over two fences and even if they have been pressed down meanwhile, for short-legged people such as me, it isn’t easy and then many parts of the footpath are unavoidably muddy, so we took each step very carefully, but there’s absolutely no much choice to avoid getting dirty. Good shoes are basic requirement. Second, as was soon to see, the steps are Victorian, more than 100 years old, not many of them are still lying as they once did. One young man mentioned that the community did nothing to improve the way down in order to avoid to be responsible for the security of the people climbing down and I can understand their attitude. Well, the staircase deserves this name only partially. The very first steps are almost ok, although none is even, but the rope that should give hold is not more but a rag, thus, from a certain point downwards, it was but climbing down. I know, the picture (from my cell phone) is a bit diffuse, but you might see it was really adventurous. Some steps are even missing, sometimes there was but a small point to put my foot on, hoping not to slip and I wouldn’t have made it, weren’t it for my three companions and their helpful hands, I wouldn’t have made it without them or even dared.
Eventually, we managed to reach the river deep down in the gorge and enjoyed the view. The stone walls surrounding the place are dark red from humidity and lack of light, the many plants are dark green and the water is very clear (with a little red tone from the red sandstone) and cold as ice. But no matter how big the effort was – it was absolutely worth the trouble. The atmosphere was just magic, very special. It felt almost like a holy place and the others felt similar. I just wanted to stay and enjoy. However, I need to be careful with a recommendation, as far as I’ve heard, rescue missions have dramatically increased since the place got famous. Once more, I have to admire the big efforts that the production team took when they brought all their material down the abyss by cranes, I really would have liked to see that!
I waited until my companions wanted to climb up again and, “with a little help from my friends”, meaning some pushing and pulling of various hands, I got up safe and sound and I was really grateful and relieved. If my orthopaedist had seen me, he’d tell me off! Well, it was absolutely worth the pain.
Now, I aimed again at my main destination for the second half of the day: Loch Lomond & the Trossachs National Park, a huge forest area, including wonderful lochs, many touristic options such as camping parks, nice restaurants, but in front of all: overwhelming, marvellous landscape. One loch practically led to another, while I was driving, there was always some water to my left or my right, a river, a creek, a waterfall and so on.
This year, I also had a few waterfalls on my list that I planned to visit whenever it fit into my route and the Falls of Dochart near Killin were on my list, too. They were just along the main road in Killin, I only had to stop, get out of my car and enjoy... Those falls didn’t fall deep down, but they stretched over a few hundred meters along the large, but flat river. There was an old stone bridge across the river in the village where I could take pictures from. From the hotel next to the bridge on, I started asking all the many B&Bs in the village for a room for the night, but all, really all of them were fully booked.
Finally, I found outside the village, in my travel direction, the Killin Hotel, shortly before the river mouthed to Loch Tay. On the picture, you can see the evening view from my room, this environment is a paradise for anglers and canoeists, birds and fish. The hotel and my room were quite old-fashioned, but for one night, it would do. The lift was archaic, looking at least as old as the house, even with a lattice grille, so I considered it not to be trustworthy and decided to use the staircase instead. There was a big country-style lobby and a very good restaurant with an adjacent modern winter garden where I had dinner, after I eventually was allowed to order it... Obviously, I can be overseen, as the waitress didn’t come to my table for 15 minutes, didn’t react to my waving, even the family at my neighbour table shook their heads about her, I had to get up and address her directly to order my dinner. I can understand that someone's busy when a place is crowded, but a good waiter should have his/her eyes open. Didn’t lead to a big tip...
Tuesday, August 9th - from Killin
For Breakfast next morning, I took the way to my car and then around the hotel, where I met a herd of ducks who were also waiting for their breakfast and were interested in nothing but that, didn’t mind my walking by.
Before I could leave that place, I had to fight with my car since suddenly, the satnav didn’t work anymore and there was no way did I want to drive without it. Well, I could have used my cell phone GPS instead, but my download volume was limited then, I already had to buy an additional volume every other day. Quite at my wit’s end, I called the car rental hotline and a very helpful man advised me to look into the manual for the reason and I found out that the satnav had a SIM card that had got loose when I removed the connecting cable for my cell phone from the central console, like I did every evening. This problem was easy to solve and the satnav worked again properly.
Relieved, I took my way northwest to Fort William, where I had an appointment with a train. Surely, everybody knows, either from the Harry Potter movies or from pictures, the impressive and curvy Glenfinnan viaduct, located a few miles beyond Fort William, where a steam train is driving regularly. Every day at a certain time, the train crosses the valley on the bridge and I absolutely wanted to see it. Problems started with finding a space on the car park because there was a visitor centre, a hotel and so on, everything was so crowded and my car not really small. It had been raining for a quite a while and didn’t improve. A lot of people were already standing on a fence which was limiting our access towards the viaduct, so we didn’t get really close and the people were already fighting for the best places. I had to face the fact that we were virtually standing in a valley and on the opposite side of the viaduct’s turn, not like I had expected on the inside and above from it.
When the train finally came, it was nice, but with my cell phone only, without telephoto, no good picture could be achieved. I liked the train slowing down on the bridge, posing for pictures. A few minutes later, a modern train came, driving in opposite direction.
Should I ever visit this viaduct again, I would try to find the viewing point on the hill in order to have a better view down from above.
Now, I proceeded to Inverlochy Castle, a castle ruin from 13th century, only a few miles away. The presentation boards explained how the castle had looked like in old times, built virtually into the water and still impressive, even today. Car park and admission were free.
Well, Fort William is located not only on the borders of Loch Eil which is crooked like a bent arm, but also on the foot of Ben Nevis, which is with its 1344 metres height not only the highest mountain of Scotland, but of the whole Great Britain. All the lochs along Great Glen, the line of lakes, rivers and canals, are leading from northwest to southeast through Scotland like a chain and virtually lying on sea level, thus Fort William is also almost on sea level and everybody who climbs Ben Nevis has to make all the altitude difference by foot, there is no road of even a cableway leading uphill. This day, I had neither time nor was I in the physical condition for climbing, although I’d like doing it one day. So, I took a road leading through the mountains nearby with a glimpse on Ben Nevis whose summit was covered in clouds, like most days. The road led over small hills and wound in turns, taking in every change in landscape. Both challenge and fun for a driver!
I wanted to visit Steall Waterfalls, consisting of two falls, the first ones easy to reach with a big car park for hikers. I spared the parking ticket since I wanted to stay only for some pictures and the lower falls were just across the road from the car park. The road leading on to the upper falls really was a challenge, a narrow mountain road, with one lane only and passing points now and then which were quite necessary since there was astonishingly much traffic and suddenly I reached the point I had feared when I had entered the road and first saw that sign “7 feet wide” which is but 2,13 metres. A big tree to the left, a rock to the right und my car fit in, somehow... The parking to the upper falls was full, I squeezed my car into a corner and walked further to the falls, but not the whole path, just to a point where I could take some good pictures, I had no time for trekking since I wanted to reach the Isle of Skye in time before nightfall.
On my long and viscous way back to the main road, I discovered another small waterfall.
Along the line of lochs, I drove towards Fort Augustus, at the southern borders of Loch Ness which is indeed after Loch Linnhe only the second biggest in surface, but because of its great depth the most abundant in water.
Loch Ness is but 1 to 2 km large, however with 36 km in length incredibly long. I took the main road to the left lakeside where I would find the ruin of Urquhart Castle at half of the side length. But when I approached the castle, I saw about a dozen cars waiting along the road to access the castle car park and I calculated this would take at least one hour to even achieve the car park and no, this was not how I expected to waste my precious time. So, Urquhart was postponed and I proceeded further north towards Inverness and the ruins of Beauly Priory, founded in 1230, the village developed around the priory. The monks named it Prioratus de Bello Loco, meaning monastery in a beautiful place, where from the modern name developed (French: Beaulieu). The land in the south of Beauly once belonged to Clan Fraser, whose head of the family, Lord Lovat, lived nearby until just a few years ago. During civil war in 17th century, the building was abused as quarry and today still belongs to the trust. On my visit, I met an elderly couple, giving me advice for my upcoming visit to Skye.
I made a short stop at the Caledonian Canal near Inverness, not far from this I had a beautiful view across the river Ness onto Inverness Castle, built in 11th century, modified in 19th century, unfortunately, there was a scaffold to the castle.
I proceeded to the eastern lakeside of Loch Ness, back south to the Falls of Foyers, an impressive waterfall just opposite Urquhart Castle. There was a free car park above and the access to the upper falls led down on about 300 steps of wood and earth. My knees screamed, but that I ignored as usual. There were many beautiful views along the way, compensation for the exertions.
During the day, I had considered it would be a pleasant change to travel to Skye by ferry, there was a ferry from Mallaig to Skye, but the last depart of the day was at 6 p.m. and I wasn’t sure whether I would make that in time, so I decided to take the common route on the A87 via Invermoriston high to the northeast. On my way, I stopped now and then to enjoy the view and take pictures.
Like last time, the last 40 miles felt endless. From the crossroads near Invermoriston, I had started looking for a B&B for the night, some of them next to the road, but with a sign „no vacancy“ – but for a dozen at least, I had to leave the road, follow the narrowest lanes, only to find out that they had no vacancy either. The very last miles far to Loch Duich were virtually uninhabited, just a small creek now and then, running down the mountains or a waterfall, an age-old stone bridge along the road, it even was a bit dizzy like it had been the year before, but – the very moment I took the last turn to the bay, the landscape widened and the sun came out – truly an absolutely majestic view!
There were only a few more miles, leaving Eilean Donan Castle (the castle with the bridge in the water) on my left, then I reached the village of Dornie and the bridge across Loch Long to the side, another big forest, but even there, all the B&Bs were fully booked as were those in Kyle where the bridge to the Isle of Skye was. This was not how I thought it would be.
Over the bridge, on the opposite shore in the small village, there also were many restaurants and hotels, even a small upmarket hotel, many more B&Bs, restaurants with rooms along the following miles – all of them fully booked. Eventually, I stopped by one of them in a car park and did what I had already done in Glasgow on my first night there, as a matter of vast calling all the hotels I found on my GPS list and at about 9 p.m., I seriously considered spending the night in my car. I made about my 20th call when the lady on the line told me that she had no vacancy, but her mother had, their house was in Kyle, so I had to drive back 10 miles on Skye, over the bridge again and find the small house on the hill in Kyle. The owner was an elderly lady who really had a room for me and an advice to get a late dinner at the Chinese's two roads down, if I hurried, it was to close at 10 and she called him to order me some Chinese noodles. I was grateful for the dinner, but the 70 pounds she charged for the small room was a royal price. Well, beggars can’t be choosy and I had no other option but sleeping in the car. Now I finally had learned my lesson – booking in time!
We had some nice chat before going to bed, she showed me the bathroom which was downstairs as was the kitchen where I would find some cereals and milk for breakfast, and we said our goodbyes as she would be off already when I left in the morning.
Wednesday, August 10 - from Kyle
My landlady had also asked me to pay attention with the window in the dormer, the curtain rod was attached only by pressure springs between the inner walls and thus quite fragile. I promised to be careful and did so, however, when I opened the window after my shower in the morning, the curtain with the wooden rod fell down and it was difficult to fix it again, high above my head, it was a poor construction. When I finally thought I had managed to fix it, it fell down once more and took a glass dish from the window-sill with it, which fell on the floor and burst into many pieces and splinters. I removed the damage and wrote a short letter for explanation and apology.
She also had advised to visit Plockton in the morning, a small village on the other side of the hill, so located on the opposite side of the peninsula and thus sheltered from the cold west-wind and usually warmer. It was only 7 miles and I could make a detour. So, I took the road up in the hills through the rain, followed stubborn sheep who blocked the road and found Plockton, a tiny village with a small, old harbour and actually saw palm trees planted, not in pots, no, planted in the soil along harbour road. Palms in Scotland!
Opposite the sound, I could see Duncraig Castle, a first class hotel that is not open to the public.
When you cross the bridge to Skye, there are a few miles following across flat county and through small villages, some with developing areas or crafters, but then there’s nothing more but lonely, winding coast roads and following the mountains, constantly towards Portree, the capital of the island. I had been recommended to visit the island museum there, but my plans were different. I had planned on visiting the Old Man of Storr, an impressive rock pinnacle on the Storr mountain massive. I drove by and there were a few cars and people, but neither did I have proper equipment nor did I want to climb up in cold and pouring rain and unfortunately, the stone was not to be seen from the street. The pinnacles evolved by weathering and the rural people gave them names, the Old Man e.g. did have a wife until only a few years ago, but she fell and crashed, doesn’t exist anymore.
So, this destination was rained out, as were the Fairy Ponds, a series of lakes and waterfalls in bright colours because the way to get there, about 30 minutes from the car park, was wet and slippery, even on good days. So did my 3rd plan for the day, going by boat to the bay of Elgol, watching dolphins didn't make much sense in that ugly, sad weather.
However, to leave the Isle of Skye, I wanted to do something different and took a turn to the right towards Gleneld, implying the ferry. My enthusiasm for the different route didn’t last long, it took me on the smallest road, just as large as my car, leading on many small hills up and down, taking every bumpiness of the landscape, on 7 long, endless miles at low speed and high concentration, often with claeves to my side and I wanted to arrive safe.
The pictures just can’t show how steep it was now and then. But I believe you can see quite well how rainy it was. I hated to drive that slow and an it took my highest concentration.
Thus, I was relatively happy when 10 finally saw the small ferry, operating on a 10-minute headway:
To my utmost dismay, I had to discover that the following road on the mainland was of the very same kind and with 10 or 12 miles even longer... However, there were quite many more cars travelling on that road, I just couldn’t understand why so many people took that road regularly and deliberately, I was absolutely sure I was taking this road for the first and absolutely last time!
Thus, I was mentally exhausted and very relieved to finally reach the next road near Loch Duich which was winding, but larger. I made a short stop on a view point and enjoyed the great view. It would have been even better in sunshine but, hey, you take what you can get!
And now for those who keep mocking about the proverbially bad weather in Scotland, be told this was, apart from the shower on my first evening, the only rainy day I had in 9 days, well, just compare this to German weather and be done. The year before, I had no rainy day in 5 days, but maybe, I was just lucky.
I used the short stop to make a phone call and booked a hotel for the last 3 days of my holidays, which I wanted to spend near Edinburgh. From the company where I work, I had a recommendation for the Struan Bank Hotel in Cowdenbeath, I called them and a nice lady confirmed my booking for 3 nights. A very good choice as I soon was going to find out.
Now, I wanted to catch up the cancelled visit to Urquhart Castle on Loch Ness from the day before. It was still quite busy there, but I found a parking pretty fast. The visitor centre has been built above the castle. Not only did they have a well equipped shop, but also an elevator down to castle level. First, they showed us a really well made video explaining the story of the castle and why it was destroyed.
The castle is located on the shores of loch Ness on a flat tongue into the water. People have been living there since 6th century already, this castle was built in about 1230, once as a fortress to protect the surrounding country, but also relatively comfortable to be adequate for the high standard of a clan chief. At it’s high time, this castle was one of the biggest in Scotland. Ownership changed a few times and the last ones, MacDonalds, blew it up when the had to leave it, they didn’t want their enemies to regain it in the first Jacobite war.
Further south, on the A86, near Loch Laggan, I found Ardverikie Estate, a small jewel where scenes for the very first episodes have been shot. There was an administration building where a young employee passionately told me about the shootings, but unfortunately, the estate was too big and not open to the public.
I continued towards east, on the A9 through Tay Forest north from Perth, into the middle of the forest to the famous Queen’s View. My satnav persistently sent me to the smallest roads (please remember, I was driving a big Jaguar limousine), sometimes I just refused to turn as the satnav told me and stayed straight forward. Eventually, I found the view point I was looking for above Loch Tummel. Maybe, there are more points named Queen’s view, but this was the Queen’s View that Queen Victoria has visited about 150 years ago and which still was breath-taking until that afternoon. You can reach it only on a very winding, but well built road that I also had to take back since my main destination was east. In one of the turns, I was suddenly confronted with a bus and both of us hardly managed to brake and stop in time. The road was not narrow, but in the turns, the bus needed the complete wideness of the road and since I had the smaller vehicle, I had to set back so we could pass each other.
On the view’s car park, I had booked a hotel using my cell phone and designated the city of Blairgowrie to be the starting point for the next day, a small but central little town north from Perth. The town lay on the borders of a river and was beautifully decorated with flowers. My first choice hotel was fully booked, so I chose the Hotel Victoria.
An old building, its best days were long over, but the current owners, a young couple with a little baby boy, took great efforts in renovating the building. The room was big and clean, with a new shower and a pub on ground floor, where I could finish my day after a classy dinner in a restaurant nearby.
The owners had employed two young girls from France, so I could use my French on them. They did some kind of exchange programme, board and lodging in exchange of work. We made an appointment for the next morning, they wanted to visit Glamis Castle and so did I, this was going to be my first location of the next day.
On this picture, you can see a rich, full Scottish breakfast!
Thursday, August 11th - from Blairgowrie
On Thursday morning, I gave the two French girls a lift to Glamis Castle, north from Dundee. The way was through the impressive gate in the high castle wall to the spacious castle garden on an alley of old trees to a visitor car park. We bought tickets for the cast,e and had to wait a while for the next guided tour, so I visited the free exhibition in the sublevel about the castle’s history, with many pictures and photographs, also from modern times, so to say the current royal family. Unfortunately, we were not allowed to take pictures upstairs. Finally, we were allowed in, and thirst thing we admired was the big dining room with wood panelled walls, the enormous table was set up for a banquet (restricted with rope barriers), the rich decoration of the whole room was very impressive. What I didn’t know earlier was that Queen Mum, the late mother of the current Queen Elisabeth II. was born here, so she was a native Scot, this was her parental home, so to say. Later in her life, she spent with her newlywed husband, at this time the brother to the King (Edward VIII) their honeymoon and many holidays there, meaning, also Elizabeth spent a considerable part of her childhood in this castle. There was still quite a lot of furniture and decoration from that time, for example the honeymoon bed.
Then we went to the crypt and to a room above, richly decorated with weapons, armour and hunting trophies, but not authentic as the guide explained, more kind of a collection and how inhabitants from romantic 19th century imagined medieval rooms to look like.
She told us to look carefully onto the walls, wondering if would find out something was wrong. There was a secret room and legend goes that, some 500 years ago, in that very room, two men were playing cards on a Sunday, strictly forbidden in those times, and the devil himself walled them in. Now they’re condemned to stay there and play cards in eternity. If you check the castle from outside, you will also find a walled-up window, so the room’s existent.
The main hall, the great hall of the castle, was overwhelmingly decorated with memorabilia
and symbols of the royal dynasty, the thistle of Scotland and the rose of England, richly furnished with furniture of old times, mostly those when Elizabeth was a little girl.
The chapel had the most interesting story to tell. This is the place where many a time the most famous ghost of Glamis was seen (there’s more than one), it’s said to be Lady Janet Douglas, falsely accused of using witchcraft by King James V and burnt in Edinburgh. Since that day, she returns to the castle, sitting in the corner of the chapel or walking around and her visits are well reported.
On my way back to the car, I visited the castle shop and bought a calendar with Scottish castles on as a souvenir for the following year.
Now, I headed towards Stirling, passing Dundee and Perth in order to visit the castles in this region. On my way, I tried for the umpteenth time to reach the caretaker of Tibbermore Church on the phone since last year, I had been standing there in front of a closed door and I didn’t want to go in vain once more. Just when I was about to pass the respective exit, a lady responded and confirmed the church to be open that day and it was.
This church, located on a very old cemetery
outside the village, is really a unique example of religious architecture. This was the shooting place for the witch trial with Claire and Geillis. Quite nondescript from outside, but inside
wonderfully built with dark wood and a half round bench in front, two small galleries to the right and left. I met a man there, he showed me, deeply moved, an old picture of his parent’s marriage who got married in this very church 50 years ago.
If you should have time for this side trip – it’s well worth visiting!
Drummond Castle lies north from Crieff. When I arrived at the narrow stone gate of the huge estate, I felt unsure whether this really was the entrance by car and whether my large car would fit in between, the distance of the posts being about the width of my car, but finally I dared to take that way and found myself for about 1 km on an alley of trees, leading to a visitor car park behind castle walls. The castle itself is not that interesting, I skipped it for the reason of time, but the gardens are the highlight not only for every Outlander fan, but also for garden fans of all kind. These gardens are opulent and strictly geometric. This is the reason why they’ve been used standing for the gardens of Versailles, where Jamie and Claire do not only meet king Louis XV, but also – most unexpectedly - Captain Jack Randall. This is a view nobody should miss! The ticket seller told me she had been present during shooting and later, also the castle tower was scouted for season 3 Ardsmuir prison. Meanwhile, we know this has been shot elsewhere. Now, I think the pictures can speak for themselves.
South from Stirling
lies Doune Castle, standing for Castle Leoch, home of the Clan MacKenzie. Last year, I did have only time for a very short visit, this year, I wanted to take my time. There are no guided tours in the castle,
but audio guides – which is so much better, as I soon was going to find out. On every special place in the castle, you could dial the respective number in the machine and listen to the description.
There were three additional numbers since last year – with Sam Heughans voice! He vividly talked about the shooting in autumn 2014 and in spring 2015, that the production had carried tons of soil
into the courtyard to have it look authentic and how he found access to his role as James Fraser and his Scottish heritage using the Gaelic language that he doesn’t speak. The castle is not
that big, but mostly well preserved, some works still going on. Most impressive were the Great Hall and the huge kitchen that looked so familiar, although shooting hadn’t happened there (they didn’t
want to damage anything), but everything had been exactly rebuilt on stage as well as the Great Hall and this was done so accurate and authentic that all the actors were amazed: This is a
Meanwhile, there are also some explanation boards to illustrate the shootings. Also, on the yards outside the castle, there was much shooting for the TV show. But this was not the first shooting there at all, already Monty Python’s „knight of the coconut“ and Game of Thrones used this castle as an authentic site.
Just a few miles south from Doune is Touch House near Stirling, standing for Culloden House in season 2. It’s not difficult to find, you just have to pass the small shops and offices to the left and follow the path when it turns right. There was also shooting inside the house, but I didn’t know that then. The front yard was covered with many tents and equipment of the Highland army.
Another few miles east I found the gates of Dunmore Park, blocked with a huge barrier and a sign saying “private property”, not inviting and no hint how to find the half-ruined mansion where the very first scenes with Claire were shot, showing her working as a nurse on the last day of World War II. (If you want to read more, please read car tour 2017).
Now I wanted to visit Callendar House in Falkirk. I couldn’t get really close by car; the old mansion is located in a local recreation area. It was about half a mile by foot from my car and when I arrived, it was shortly past 5 p.m. and the building was closed already. Quite annoying, but my own fault. So, I just took a picture and postponed this location to the next day.
In order to make the rest of the day somehow useful, I decided to make a stop on my way to my hotel near Edinburgh, visit something lying on the way and still open in the late hours. Lallybroch, home of the Frasers, to be correct Midhope Castle, former home of the Hopfe family, was an obvious offer, only a few miles west from Edinburgh. Like the year before, I was all alone and enjoying the peaceful atmosphere of the place, the many stories, the many people who once lived there and even now when the place is uninhabited and half ruined, it doesn’t feel deserted. Crazy, isn’t it?
Now I took the road over the bridge towards north, to my last hotel on this tour, the Struan Bank Hotel in Cowdenbeath and most astonishingly, I found a parking space for my car directly beneath. I arrived late, at about 18.30 – 19 h and received a warm welcome by Maggie and Peter who run the hotel together, more kind of a Bed and Breakfast. On some places, I could see that this once was put together from two houses aside, also a little older, but well furnished, very clean and comfortable. After inscription to the guest book of the hotel, I could choose the ingredients of my breakfast and decided to give Maggie’s Haggis a chance. To be honest, I didn’t like it much, but still I think it’s worth to give foreign food a try before judging, usually. But apart from that, Maggie’s offers a great breakfast and is responsive to every guest’s wish.
Friday, August 12th - from Cowdenbeath
For my penultimate day, I had chosen locations around Edinburgh and decided to start with the one most distant: Dunbar Harbour, far out on the east coast. There was shooting for season 2 on the west side of the harbour gate, on the ruin of a fortress where, with some phantasy, I still could imagine the former building.
A few miles to the west, there was one of the biggest medieval castles in Scotland, nowadays no more than a big ruin: Tantallon Castle near North Berwick, on a cliff above the sea, guarding the entrance to the Firth of Forth. There was a huge visitor car park, but only me and one couple were present in the early morning. I paid a few pounds and walked across some dunes towards the castle, being so much bigger than I had thought before . The main building had 5 large stories up, so it had been really big, and underground additionally. The castle was naturally protected from three sides by the see and additionally by a water moat from the landside. It was ancestral seat of the Earl of Douglas and was destroyed in 17th century in civil war.
Now, I wanted to catch up with my visit to Callendar House in Falkirk. After I had seen the evening before that there was a car park pretty in the woods, close to the mansion, I found the access using the GPS of my cell phone. Originally, it was built as a fortress, remodelled in 17th century to a mansion and modified a few more times after until it looked like it does today. Some years ago, there was some elaborate restauration and nowadays, it’s a museum and one of a few offering free admission.
Main thing I was interested in was one room in particular: the well preserved medieval kitchen, standing for the place of the Earl of Sandringham’s place, where he lost his noble head and Mary took revenge on her rapist. The scenes for the living rooms were shot in Drumlanrig Castle in Dumfries, but the kitchen actually was in Callendar House. Creepily beautiful!
Next, I was searching for a very special place, whose location wasn’t known yet the year before: West Kirk of Culross, yes, the very village of Culross where I had been already twice before without knowing what else to find here. Most exceptionally, the satnav told me in the middle of nowhere: you have reached your destination. Nothing but wheat fields around me. I continued to the next small crossroads, asked another driver who sent me further towards the village. At the borders, I met a woman walking her dog and she gave me an exact explanation which country road to take and where to leave my car. Every now and then, it proves useful to ask somebody local, because maybe he or she knows and can help you and if they don’t, I just ask the next one and quite often, I am successful. Now, this is the Black Kirk in episode 103, where Jamie and Claire talk and she finds the origin of little Thomas’ sickness. Not only a ruined church, but also an old graveyard and thus to be treated with respect.
I also found there was a Culross Abbey and only a few yards downhill, I finally found the most famous market place, where the poor tanner boy’s ear was nailed to the post. To the right, there was Geillis Duncan’s house and to the left the house standing for Thomas’s home. The old village of Culross is very well preserved and many buildings have these particular, distinctive windows. (you can also read 2015 and bus tour 2017).
Next, I was looking for Limekilns in Charlestown nearby, in of the local kilns (meaning: cave) there was shooting for season when Claire is searching for Jamie und unexpectedly meets Dougal, hiding smuggled goods in a cave. The place was closed with a line of site fence, but not really good, getting in was no much of a problem and I wasn’t the only one being there.
Just a few miles from my hotel was the county town Dunfermline, one of the oldest settlements in whole Scotland, there are archeologic proofs from iron and bronze time. But it is also one of the historic capitals of Scotland and owning the most important medieval cathedral, Dunfermline Abbey, founded in 12th century. For centuries, this was the royal headquarter and burying site for the kings, such as David I and Robert the Bruce, whose ledger stone can be visited in the abbey. The historic City Hall two blocks down, near the entrance to the pedestrian zone, is charming, too.
A few miles south near Kirkcaldy is Dysart Harbour, one of those typical small coast village with a beautiful old harbour. This was the shooting place for season two’s Le Havre scenes, the backside wall was transferred to harbour buildings by CGI, in the foreground, Jamie Claire and Murtagh went ashore.
On my way back to the hotel was Balgonie Castle near Glenrothes. A small castle in flat land, no other visitor in sight, it felt somehow strange first. Was I right to come to this place? Inside, I received a happy welcome by an elderly man sitting on a table, solving a crossword puzzle. This was the owner himself, 84 years old already. I asked him whether the castle could be visited and pretty fast, we came to the reason of my visit.
There had been shooting for episode 13 and 15 in season 1, when Claire has to hide with the Highlanders, planning Jamie’s rescue from Wentworth prison. Raymond Morris had bought the castle 37 years ago and thus called himself the rightful Laird of Balgonie. Since then, he and his late wife, with the help of their son, refurbished the castle all alone, very impressive. Despite his arthrosis, he gave me a complete and enthusiastic tour all through the castle and I was really astonished what they had made out of an old ruin.
He also had a small book printed on the shooting and sold me one. Please have a look at the pictures and at the backside of the small book with his dedication.
There was an old chapel in the castle, from 14th century, already decorated for a marriage next day, I just put some light on the pic so you can recognize the details. He made some extra money with the chapel that he all puts in the castle, it's not finished yet. In his exhibition room, there was also a pair of medieval peasant’s shoes like those I know from our medieval festival Peter und Paul in Bretten and once I had told him that, we started an animate discussion about medieval festivals and was they meant to us.
He very much enjoyed the production and would be very pleased if they came back one day because they paid very well, so he told me with a grin. You can see him on one of the pictures, to the left.
After more than two hours, I had to tear myself away from him, this charming old man could have told stories for another two hours, but I had really, really enjoyed the time with him and promised to be back one day, if possible...
Saturday, August 13th - from Cowdenbeath
For Saturday, my last day, I had pretty many locations in the city of Edinburgh on my list, for example an Outlander tour in the morning and an underground tour in the afternoon. I had found a flyer offering tours in my very first hotel, now ordered by phone two tours and paid both by credit card (mercatours), now that I knew how it would fit in my time. I tried to find a parking space as close as possible to the pedestrian zone and left my car in Queen Street, next to a small park. I filled the ticket machine with as many coins as I had and got 2 ½ hours parking time until noon. It took about 10 minutes straight walking to the meeting point at the Cathedral. There was already a group of about 20 people waiting and our tour guide Kim arrived soon. She was an Outlander fan herself and had a thick folder with pictures and sketches with her to show how Edinburgh had looked like in 18th century and how Jamie and Claire would have seen it, had they visited Edinburgh (I thought they did, didn’t they???).
At first, she showed us the heart in the street plaster next to the cathedral, the Heart of Midlothian, marking the entry to the former Tolbooth prison, meaning there were two of them, the lower one at Canongate (standing until today) and this older one, so when the men from Lallybroch were imprisoned in Tolbooth prison, this would’ve been there.
We learned that there existed several hundreds of Wynds and Closes, the small lateral lanes to the Royal Mile. A Close did have a door then and could be closed in the evening, this is where the name came from. This Royal Mile is lying on the middle of the mountain ridge of a volcano (don’t worry, the last eruption happened at least 120.000 years ago) like the middle bone of a fish and the numerous lanes to the side always go downwards. This is also how their "sewage system” worked in old times, because the inhabitants pitched all their waste into the roads and lanes and hoped for the regularly rainy Scottish weather, otherwise, the city would have drowned in their own waste. This also might be the reason why the Princess Street Garden, deep down in the valley, with water from all sides running in, is so green and blooming until today...
The market fountain, now located next to the cathedral, was before standing in the middle of the main street and was moved to the side because of the increasing traffic.
We visited some of the closes, many of them deeply turning downward after a few meters, some with stairs, some leading to an inner yard with more buildings, some to steps. In Bakehouse Close, one of the best preserved medieval lanes, once were the houses of the richest and noblest families in town. This one, a former crafter’s house, later was a brothel. We saw John Knox’s house and the still intact Tolbooth down the road at Canongate. The small grey haired, lively person in front, that’s Kim.
The golden brackets in the plaster near World End’s pub show where the old city gates stood; for the former, non-mobile population, the proverbial world’s end. In those times, Canongate was an independent village and the first built Holyrood Abbey next to the later to come Holyrood Palace was far from town, exactly a Scottish mile, 1,8 km.
A few metres before, there is the Scottish Parliament, with an old building to the right and a hypermodern new building to the left, that also received some prices in architecture.
This was also the end of our tour and I urgently had to get back to my car to avoid one of the incredibly expensive British tickets. Without further ado, I took a taxi back to the car which was not that expensive. On site, I needed some coins for the ticket machine, so I searched for a shop for some change. It took some while until I found a barber shop, nobody would change my 10-pound banknote, so I bought a cheap pair of earrings and used the change for the next parking ticket and hasted back to the city, the next tour was approaching!
For the underground tour, I had brought myself a sweat jacket, I expected it to be cold underground. For the quick walk, I put it over my shoulder bag, I didn’t need it yet. At the corner of the Scott Monument, I suddenly felt the jacket was missing, obviously had slipped and fallen down. So, I returned and searched carefully, found it two blocks back across the road, a friendly fellow man had picked it up and put it to a metal post.
Until I finally reached the meeting point next to the Cathedral, I was just in time and almost out of breath. Betty, our tour guide, was already waiting and originally from Austria, having lived in Edinburgh for many years then. But if I had expected to find some happy-to-meet-me co-German speaker, I had it all wrong. In her opinion, Germans meant to Austrians the same as English mean to Scots, so no good at all but bossy oppressors. Now, there was no love lost on us and not much more to say to that, I left her to her opinion.
Despite its name, our tour started over ground and we learned that in medieval and renaissance times, many buildings in the wynds and closes were 10, 14 or even 16 stories high! The lower ones usually out of stone, the first floor (the “bel etage”) usually inhabited by rich people, the upper floors usually built of wood, to the very high ones usually only ladders or very steep stairs leading up. The higher upstairs, the poorer were the people who lived in and the smaller their chances to survive in a fire, should there be one. Well, and very naturally, none of these people took effort in carrying dirty waters or the contents of their chamber pots downstairs, of course not. They just used to open their window, scream “gardeloo” (from French: garde l’eau – Beware of the water).
A few closes east, next to a pub, we entered the underground on a narrow staircase. Betty told us that once, in the range of today’s South Bridge, there had been a deep trench across High Street, separating Edinburgh from Canongate in the east. Someday, they had the idea to fill this trench and build a street upon. The construction is consisting in a few levels of many arcs und thus, is stable until today. Later, today’s roads and their adjacent houses just were built upon. Well, the city council considered the architect who had had the idea and had worked out the plans to be too expensive and thus the council just shut down his contract and used the plans to build this much cheaper with someone else. The money spared was used to build the arcs and now the council had the ingenious idea to let the underground rooms (vaults) and to make even more, much more money with rent. Thus, in 1788, many people moved in, crafters, pubs, warehouses, businesses and many more and most of the people even lived completely underground! We’re speaking of 10.000s. On some spots, we still could see crashed seashells on the floor, mussels then were a common and cheap food in pubs.
After a while, leakage water became a problem, nobody liked his goods getting wet and wasted and the population changed, too. It was the time of the big change in the country, hunger and unemployment in the north of Scotland and around Edinburgh drove people into the city, desperately trying to make a life or even survive, criminality increased highly.
There were also the body snatchers. First, they stole bodies only from a cemetery in order to sell them to scientists or more creepy professions, later they “helped” the people dying when bodies were short. Altogether, life in the vaults became more and more unsafe and dangerous and 30 years after they’d been built, the city had the vaults closed and filled with earth, stones and waste. Nobody lived there anymore and over the years, memory got lost – until in 1990, a man and his son, when modernizing their cellar, opened a wall, didn't know what that was at all, started digging and digging, transported tons of material outside and eventually, this whole thing went public. Since then, some of the upper rooms were made accessible again, being used for cellars or underground tours.
As interesting as the stories were, all of us were quite relieved when we finally could climb upstairs and breath fresh air again.
After the end of the tour, I had some more time to spend to walk around, although the inner city of Edinburgh had got very crowded meanwhile, the festival was still going on and often walking was almost impossible. There were street artists everywhere, groups or choirs making music to invite for their evening shows, there was music, theatre and comedy just everywhere, in pubs and restaurants, even in churches. Many events with free admission, some cost. The festival guide with all the events was a thick book.
After some more consideration, I bought the beautiful ring with the enormous stone that I had seen on my very first day, for my husband. It was quite expensive, but with a unique stone and I justified the expense it being a present for his upcoming birthday next month.
Now I was done and with a yearning heart, I left Edinburgh and headed to my hotel, but not directly, I wanted to pay another visit to Falkland.
Meanwhile, we knew that the second season had finished shooting, but it hadn’t aired yet. But I already knew that there had been several shootings in Falkland again, standing for Inverness in 18th and 20th century. Thus, I left my car again across the „Covenanter’s“, the pub which has been standing for Mrs. Beards B&B, and discovered the lane, where Claire walked the Murtagh and with Jack Randall, the city hall standing for the town archives and also Falkland Palace. Unfortunately, it was already too late to visit it from inside, but maybe next time.
(please look also 2015 and bus tour 2017).
Sunday, August 14th - from Cowdenbeath
On Sunday morning, I had to catch an early flight at 11, meaning I had time for breakfast only, then packed my suitcase and took my goodbyes from Maggie and Peter. Returned my rental car and checked in, 9 days of vacation got over much too soon. Sad and full of happiness in one time...