We’re ready to begin the third portion of our trip through Scotland. Before I begin the itinerary, I want to share a few traveling tips with you – some you may already know about; others, this likely may be the first time you’ve heard of them. First, when you travel in the UK, almost never will you find anything that even resembles a wash cloth in the bathroom. There are thick, lovely bath towels and face towels, and not even one face cloth! I’ve learned to purchase a pack of disposable face cloths. Another thing – there are no top sheets on the beds. Beth was so sure the hotel had accidentally failed to provide a top sheet that she called the hotel service department to request one. They kindly informed her there were no top sheets used throughout the hotel – the top coverlet served the purpose. OK!
Another small detail, for those of us from the south, do not even think about looking for biscuits and gravy on the menu or breakfast bar. If you ordered biscuits and gravy in a restaurant, besides the waitress giving you a strange look, what you’d get would be a cookie with some sort of sauce on the top. Biscuits in the UK are cookies, and gravy is what you pour over mashed potatoes and meat. Best advice is to forget it and enjoy the delicious sausages, eggs and toast that are served on buffets and on menus.
While we’re on the subject of things to remember about traveling in Scotland, you should consider purchasing a pass from the Royal Oak Society; it will allow you to see many sites throughout Scotland without an additional charge and is very reasonably priced. This pass covers many of the castles, museums and places, like the Visitor’s Center at Culloden. It does not cover admission to the single malt distilleries that you will want to visit because the process of brewing single malt is truly interesting; besides there is a tasting room at almost every one where you can sample the results of their labors!
Now, let’s get to traveling; we’ve left Edinburgh and all the interesting things we visited there and are on the M 90 on our way to Perth where there are many interesting shops and awesome places to purchase a tasty lunch of fish ‘n chips. This is a good place to shop for woolen sweaters and other knitted goods — however, remember the sizes in Scotland are different than in the US; be sure you hold the item you are purchasing up and take a good look at the size it is as compared to the size you need. Also…..if you want ‘Made in Scotland’ items, be certain the label identifies the product you are purchasing truly was made in Scotland. It will make a difference in the quality of the materials used to construct the item you are purchasing and, you are supporting Scotland’s work force as well.
We’ve had a tasty lunch of soup and a sandwich made of roast beef with horseradish and salad cream (no mayonnaise in Scotland), walked up and down the main street of Perth and admired the lovely items for sale in this old picturesque town. If there is time, we might sit a spell on a bench and do some people watching as they pass by. We wonder where they live, what they do and how different their lives are from ours. Beth, who is 5’10” tall remarks that everyone in Scotland seems to be short – she says short to her is anything under 5’8″. She also thinks that her Cameron family must have a bit’ o’ Viking blood somewhere along the line as many of the Cameron folks are tall. Would make a good story, wouldn’t it? A Viking ship overtaking a part of Scotland, and the men coming ashore to plunder, and yes, rape the local lassies. Well! it does sound plausible though.
On our way north, we’ll stop at Scone Palace (pronounced Scoone, with a long o.) This impressive building originally was the site of an early church and was once part of an abbey. It is a 5 star tourist attraction that we’ve visited many times and still love to visit. When we were there several years ago, the Murray family had their herd of registered Highland Cattle grazing in one of the fields. We envied the lush green grass they grazed upon — our own herd of Highland Cattle in Missouri would have been envious! Scone Palace is the original crowning place for Kings of Scotland. It was upgraded for the visit of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert in 1842. After a quick (we wish it had been longer) visit to the two floors filled with paintings, beautiful antique furniture and a quick walk through the lovely gardens, we set out again on the A90 to Dundee where we will pick up the A92 to Stonehaven. Along the way, we stop at Dunnotter Castle, rather the ruins of Dunnotter Castle. What a totally marvelous place! It is built out on a huge rock that extends out and over a part of the coastal water. Talk about a view! It’s more than I can find descriptive words for. There is something mournful about this place and we discovered why – there are chambers that extend down into the rock for Covenanters who were held prisoner here. In fact over one hundred men, women and children were held here in the fifteenth century. I think they were disloyal to the King — many of them starved to death. As they say in England, bloody awful!
While it’s a long way to Stonehaven, right on the coast, we aim for there knowing that we have reservations at a beautiful hotel right on the east coast. As we arrive, the sun is beginning to set over the high hills behind us, in front are rocks, then a sandy beach. Our hotel room has a huge window that looks out over this beautiful scenery. We run out for a quick walk before darkness overtakes us. Our dinner is fish ‘n chips made by a tiny little shop that has earned the reputation of selling the best fish ‘n chips in all of Scotland! Delicious!
Next morning, we have one of those awesome Scottish breakfasts and set out for Aberdeen. We’re on the A70 which runs alongside the coast to Aberdeen. Along the way, the view changes to farming country with big fields of golden wheat blowing in the wind. When we reach Aberdeen, we go on a little walkabout, stretch our legs and stop in at a tea shop for a cuppa and a snack. Our snack is lemon layer cake with lemon cream cheese filling. It’s served with a sweet raspberry sauce that perfectly offsets the tart lemon taste of the cake.
At 5:00p.m. we board a ferry for the Orkney Islands. This ferry is more like a small cruise ship; there are onboard movies, 5 to choose from, a full dinner restaurant, a gift shop, snack bar, game room and a big play area for children. We spend time in the gift shop selecting books by local writers to bring home with us. Finally at 11:00p.m. we arrive on the Orkney Islands at the town of Kirkwall. We have reservations in Kirkwall for the night and look forward to a good night’s sleep.
Next morning, we begin our tour of 5 different World Heritage Sites; while all of them are memorable and a must-see, the one that really stands out was built in 1942 by Italian prisoners who were kept on the Orkney Islands. They were determined to build a place of beauty in the middle of nowhere with nothing except their own extensive talents and a few scraps of left over materials from the British Army’s construction of Quonset huts for temporary shelters. And—-they certainly accomplished their goal! Not only is the Italian Chapel a thing of great beauty, it also is a most holy place. Inside the tiny chapel are beautifully painted portraits of the Holy Mother, Mary holding her newborn baby. The portraits have great depth, you feel as if you are looking inside a real room. It’s difficult to describe — you need to see it for yourself. Then, we’re back on the road marveling at this tiny peninsula, almost an island place.
In the clear blue water are pieces of wreckage that protrude from the water; after World War I, the German Navy scuttled their fleet at the mouth of Scapa Flow. We stop at a small coffee/tea shop on the way and are pleased that they’ve just taken a sticky toffee pudding out of the oven — no wonder we stopped, you can smell it out in the parking lot! Sticky Toffee pudding is really a heavy, moist cake that literally sticks to your ribs. We have a dollop of ice cream with ours (sure we need that!), drink our tea and it’s off again to another site on the Orkneys that will astound us. We’ve taken pictures and keep them in order with our journal, marking the dates we visit places and a description of what we saw. It’s neat to get those notes out later and re-remember the beautiful places we’ve seen.
Hope you enjoy reading about our travels — we’ll be there again this year. Just can’t get enough of Scotland. It was our ancestors’ home and a part of our hearts will always be there. As they say in Scotland,
Beth and Ken Bristow