Scotland – Edinburgh, Isle Of Skye, St. Andrews


Land of poets and authors, philosophers and inventors, legendary castles and mighty heroes, home of golf, world’s finest whisky distillers ? yes, it is Scotland. And even more, dramatic landscapes of mountains, lochs, glens, isles, it is a photographer’s paradise.  When we got a convenient time, during last autumn ( September/ October 2010), we (my wife and I) packed our bags and headed to this northern land in Great Britain. Scotland at its northern most isles is close to Norway.


England, Wales and Scotland make up Great Britain.  Great Britain along with Northern Ireland, is the country of United Kingdom. First the Celts and then the Romans invaded these lands. Scottish clans already had all the experience they needed in battles before the Romans arrived; because, the clans used to have brutal wars constantly against each other for lands, cattle or control of the lochs; even more for settling scores if they felt that the honor and pride of the clans were challenged. The rugged landscape and poor crops also fueled the fighting. The Romans could not handle this tough bunch and they built up a wall to keep these stubborn fighters out as they settled in more comfortable English surroundings. That wall is the Hadrian’s wall, built around AD 122 by the Romans. See the lowest part of the Map below for the location. Wall is about 70 miles long.



Scotland Map (Courtesy: “Lonely Planet”  Publishers)


SCOTTISH HIGHLANDS


Lower part of Scotland that includes Edinburgh and Glasgow is considered as the Lowlands. Northern part, which is more mountainous and full of rivers and lakes flowing to the sea all around is known as the Scottish Highlands. This is a rugged area of hills, valleys, mines, some farms and lots of isles. The area had a distinct culture, more Gaelic than the Lowlands. History of this area is peppered with bitter clan wars. People wore kilts of distinct and different patterns, each one signifying a particular clan. Bag pipers are hallmarks of the area. Each village had its own bagpiper. Some of the clan names are Campbell, Mackenzie, Macdonald, (Mac means son of, that is, a Macdonald is for son of Donald),  Macgregor, Stewart, Scott, ?. There is a resurgence of the Gaelic past and lots of the road signs are in Gaelic and English. Notice them in some of the pictures below.


EILEAN DONAN CASTLE


Eilean Donan Castle in the Highlands is a beautiful castle, considered as the most photographed sight in all of Scotland. It is located between the Loch Ness area and the Isle of Skye. On a trip to the Isle, it is an easy visit here. For photographing, better vantage points are on the way to the Isle rather than the return way. The castle sits on an island between three sea lochs: Loch Alsh, Loch Duich and Loch Long. Originally, a religious hermit inhabited the fort area, by the name St. Donan.  Eilean Donan means Island of Donan. The Castle was built during AD 1220 time period, owned by the Clan MacKenzie. It was subjected to several wars, shellings, rebuilding and change of  ownerships. The Castle has been featured in the 1986 movie Highlander (Sean Connery). Many other movies have been filmed in this location including some Bollywood movies.



Eilean Donan Castle..Scottish Highlands 



In Scottish Highlands..near The Eilean Donan Castle 


Loch Ness area is marked on the above map, close to Inverness.  Loch means lake. Inver means mouth of the river. River Ness is the mysterious place for the ever elusive sighting of the Loch Ness Monster ( “Nessie”).


If you show your apprehensions vocally, you may loose the favor of a Highlander! Some other commonly heard words and their meanings are ? Glen is for a narrow, secluded valley, Kirk is for Church, Ben is for mountain (Ben Nevis), Bonnie is for beautiful ( Bonnie Prince Charlie), cairn (pile of stones..plenty in the highlands), wee is for small (wee dram means a shot of whisky).



In Scottish Highlands 



Road sign pointing to Loch Ness Centre ..in Gaelic and English 



Loch Ness..place to look for the “Loch Ness Monster”  



Hampton Castle in the Highlands 



Highland Cattle – unique cow..with thick shaggy hair over flowing the forehead


ISLE OF SKYE (The Misty Isle)


As I mentioned in the opening passage, this is a landscape photographer’s paradise. I hope the pictures below show  justice to the majestic beauty that surrounds this landscape. Tumbling waterfalls on the hills and gushing into the sea, majestic rock faces and carvings, autumn colors of the heather covered mountains, peaceful settings of sheep grazing in the meadows and the hills, spectacular sunsets, distant waves of mountains seen through the mist, ancient Celtic monuments and legends and stories of the distant past make this trip a life long memory.  Robert Burns, one of the most famous of Scottish writers, wrote:


“My heart’s in the Highlands, my heart is not here;
   My heart’s in the Highlands a chasing the deer;
   Chasing the wild deer, and following the roe;
   My heart’s in the Highlands, wherever I go.”


Another of the famous Scottish writer, Robert Louis Stevenson wrote:


“To travel hopefully is a better thing than to arrive”


When you are in the Isle of Skye, you hope to travel hopefully for a long time, enjoying view after view of the beautiful nature and forget about arriving.



Pristine Nature, Peace, Harmony, ..picture says it all 



In the Isle of Skye – Scottish Highlands  



In the Isle of Skye – Scottish Highlands  



In the Isle of Skye – Scottish Highlands  



In the Isle of Skye – Scottish Highlands  



In the Isle of Skye – Scottish Highlands  



In the Isle of Skye – Scottish Highlands  



in the Isle of Skye – an ancient house , Gaelic/Celtic period (maintained as a historic building) 



Hilkka going on a hike..Quiraing area, Isle of Skye 



Isle of skye..Mountains and Cliffs 


EDINBURGH


Edinburgh, the capital city of Scotland is majestic and deeply historic. The ancient historic Castle, the seat of Scottish monarchy  and the seat of Scottish crown jewels, dominate the city even today. It sits on a craggy, steep hill with very sharp drops on three sides. The Royal Mile begins at the entrance of the Castle and ends at the Palace of Holyroodhouse, which is used as the summer residence by the Queen of England (when the Queen visits Scotland).  Royal Mile is packed with medieval high buildings; each one is part of the history of Scotland. Close to the Castle, off to a side, there is a Writers museum specially dedicated to the three great literary figures of Scotland ? Robert Burns, Sir Walter Scott and Robert Louis Stevenson. St. Giles’ cathedral is like the Westminster abbey of Scotland. It is located in the middle of the Royal Mile. Also not too far, but on the side streets, are the ” Elephant House” restaurant where J.K. Rowling (of Harry Potter) wrote her initial novels; and a statue of the most favorite dog of Edinburgh, known as” Greyfriars Bobby” (dog that kept vigil everyday for fourteen years on his master’s grave and the city people fell in love with him). At the other end of Royal Mile, close to the Palace is the ultra modern Scottish parliament house.


We stayed on Princess Street.  Our place was very convenient to walk to the Royal Mile over the North Bridge, and to use the Waverly train station and was within short distance of the Scott monument. Past the Scott monument on  Princess Street, make a left turn, you are into the gorgeous Princess Street gardens. Continue the walk up the steep hill, enter and exit several closed stone archways under the buildings, you are right on Royal Mile. On the other side of our hotel, is the Calton Hill. This has a good observatory. From Calton hill, you get the best view of Edinburgh ? The Castle, Scott monument, Balmoral Hotel, Princess Street and the entire panoramic view of the skyline. My pictures below have titles that can help you to do further reading and web research for additional information. If there are specific questions, please write in the comment section following the article. I will provide you more relevant data.



Edinburgh Castle..at the beginning of The Royal Mile 



St. Giles’ Cathedral on The Royal Mile 



St. Giles’ Cathedral.. Close up of the Spire 



A Plaque in the court yard of the Writers museum, Edinburgh  



View of the City of Edinburgh from Calton hill 



Holyrood Palace at the end of the Royal Mile 



Edinburgh..Sandstone buildings in the evening light 



A night view of Edinburgh 



Scott Monument on Princess street, Edinburgh 



Greyfriars Bobby – statue of Edinburgh’s favorite dog  



Scottish Clan Symbols on plaques 



A Bagpiper – uniquely Scottish 


WHISKY 


No trip to Scotland is complete without talking about Whisky; even better tasting a few shots of different single malts (wee dram).  Besides the various local pubs, an excellent and easy place for it is ” The Scotch Whisky Experience” place, close to the Castle and on the Royal Mile. You get a guided tour on the special processes involved in producing this fine liquor.


Scotch Whisky is spelled without an “e”.  At the end of the tour, you enter into a whisky tasting room. There are around two hundred types of single malt whiskys displayed here. One can also, extend the stay with tasting and comparisons of various single malts. Single malt whisky is made out of a malted single grain, that is barley. The three major ingredients in making the single malt are malted barley, yeast and water. Depending on the region and the water in the region as well as the distilling process, whisky produced in each distillery is unique and the quality control is of the highest level to maintain the distinctions. There are four major whisky regions in Scotland ? Highland, Lowland, Islay and Speyside. Speyside has the most distilleries. One of the famous single malt whiskey “Glenfiddich” is produced in Speyside. Each region’s water and its mineral content gives separate flavors.


Some part of Scotland had lots of coal/peat and the single malts from that region tend to have a peaty, smoky flavor. Five steps in appreciating Scotch whisky ? Color (gold, amber, copper), Body (light, full,..), Nose (smell), Palate (soft, sweet, fruity, spicy), Finish (flavor drops off quickly or remain for a long time). Blended whisky that is popular all over the world (brands such as Johnny Walker, Chivas Regal) make up large part of the whisky produced in Scotland, approx. 90%. Blended whisky is mostly a mix of single malt whisky (barley) and grain whisky (may be wheat or corn or..). If I go any further on this topic, discussion would be over spirited (!)



All about Whisky – inside this building on the Royal Mile 



Display of  Whisky Bottles..only Scotch of course


ST. ANDREWS


St. Andrews is the home of the most famous golf course in the world. Most of us have seen the Old course during the British open on TV. Pictures below and on the back album would give a good idea of the layout. On the way, you get a chance to see the famous The Forth Rail Bridge. Besides The Old Course, St. Andrews is also noted for the world class, University of St. Andrews.  We traveled here from Edinburgh by public bus. It takes a little over an hour and you can get off at St. Andrews City bus station,. If you take the train, the train station is about five miles from the city center.



Firth of Forth Railroad bridge – between Edinburgh and St. Andrews 



World’s most famous golf course at St. Andrews 



The Old Course touching the West Sands Beach, North Sea



Traveling to Scotland and in Scotland is fairly easy.  By plane, Edinburgh is little over an hour from London or Dublin, Ireland. By Train, it is about 5 hours from London. Fights come to Edinburgh from major airports in Europe. We flew from New York to Dublin and stayed there for a few days to explore Dublin and the surrounding countryside. Then we took a separate flight to Edinburgh. It is convenient to make Edinburgh (or Glasgow..only an hour by train between the two cities) as the base for your Scotland trip. Edinburgh itself is a fantastic place to spend several days. You can conveniently take 1 day or 2 days or 3 days or longer tours to the Highlands, Isle of Skye and other interesting places from Edinburgh.


“Mar Sin Leat”


is Good bye in Old Scottish Gaelic (more known in the northern  part of the Highlands and the Hebridean Isles). Very few people in today’s Scotland speak or know this language, so if no one understands, don’t be surprised.


Cheers.



Author: J. M. Bhandary- USA