Category Archives: 2013 Baltic and Britain

2013 Summer (Baltic and Britain – Scotland – July 13 – Day 20)

As I mentioned in my last blog, I am a huge Harry Potter fan.  I didn’t begin to read the books until the fourth one was published; and then it was just a matter of curiosity to see what all the hype was about.  Needless to say, I was hooked very quickly.  I was not one of the devout who lined up at the bookstore at midnight to buy the next volume, but I did put my name on the list to have one saved for me at the store each time one was published.

I was equally as pleased with the films.  I understood that with all the sub-plots Rowling had going on in the books that a lot of cutting would need to be done in the movies.  The only thing that upset me a bit was in the last one where the director put in a huge flying scene between Voldemort and Harry Potter that did not take place in the novels – plus a few other shorter scenes.  But, I am big girl, so I didn’t get too bent out of shape over it.  The whole thing is, after all, a fantasy.  (Although, I was happy when I did the sorting quiz on Pottermore to learn that I would be put in Gryfinndor house!)

The Jacobite Steam Train was the Hogwart’s Express that took all the young wizards and witches to school at the start of every term.  The West Highland Railway allowed Warner Bros. to use one of their locomotives and the train’s route from Ft. William to Mallaig in the films.  The locomotive from the movies is now on the Warner Bros. Studio lot in London and can be seen if you take the ‘Making of Harry Potter’ tour.The black line on Google maps denotes a railway route rather than the usual blue line for a driving route.  They are so clever!

There is a four hour excursion that runs 41 miles from Ft. William to Mallaig and back.  It is billed as “The Greatest Railway Journey in the World.”  Now, it was a lovely ride, despite a bit of rain, but I would not call it the greatest in the world. I think the Rocky Mountaineer through the Rockies would be equally, or more scenic.  I also think the Orient Express would surpass it.  (That trip unfortunately, only goes from Paris to Venice now.  It originally went from Paris to Constantinople (now Istanbul); and is on my bucket list.) Ft. William is the largest town in the Highlands.  It is situated at the southern end of the Great Glen. The famous 21-arched  Glenfinnan viaduct,  which  overlooks  Loch  Shiel. The scenery truly was beautiful, even  with  the  imminent  rain.Loch  Morar  is the  deepest  freshwater loch  in  Britain,  and  is  connected to  the  open  waters  of  the  Atlantic  by  River Morar,  the  shortest  river  in  Britain. The end of the line is Mallaig, which sits at the ocean end of Loch Nevis, the deepest seawater loch in Europe. We had a couple of hours to wander around Mallaig while the locomotive was moved to the end of the train for the journey back to Fort William. The  train  crossed  several shorter  viaducts  along  the  route.It was pretty hard to get a photo without the hand and camera of someone else in the shot.  For some strange reason, everyone was doing exactly what you were doing.

As we approached Fort William we had a good view of Ben Nevis, the highest mountain in Britain. We spent the night at the Premier Inn at Fort William and the next day we drove south before connecting to the A85 east and A84 south to Stirling, with a stop at Doune Castle, one of the most famous filming locations in Scotland.


2013 Summer (Baltic and Britain – Scotland – July 12 – Day 19 – Part 3)

After a lovely walk in the extensive gardens at Blair Castle we had lunch at the Atholl Arms Hotel before continuing on our way westward.

We stopped briefly at Laggan Dam,  and  reached the  ruins  of  Inverlochy  Castle  as  the  rain  began  to  fall. Inverlochy  is a well-preserved 13th century castle of the Comyn Family.  It is comprised of a square courtyard, with round towers at the corners.  It is one of Scotland’s earliest stone castles. During our travels in Scotland we criss-crossed the country a few times.  There are some pretty short distances from one side to the other due to all the deep inlets.  Mainland Scotland has 9,910 km (6,160 miles) of coastline.  This doesn’t include the shores of the many islands which would increase the distance by about 7,000 km (4,000 miles).  The west coast particularly, is indented with long promontories separated by fjord-like sea lochs.Our destination for the end of this, our 19th day touring around, was Fort William, situated at the end of one of these sea lochs,  Loch Linnhe.  We had tickets for the next day’s trip of the Jacobite Steam Train from Ft. William to Mallaig and back.  This is the bright red steam engine used in the Harry Potter movies and the route takes you over the long, curving viaduct that you see in the films.  I was really stoked about this excursion as I am a huge Harry Potter fan.  I have read all the books several times and watched all the movies almost as often.

2013 Summer (Baltic and Britain – Scotland – July 12 – Day 19 – Part 2)

We left Killiecrankie and Soldier’s Leap at noon and drove a short distance to Blair Castle, home of the Dukes of Atholl for 700 years. We were greeted at Blair Castle by this young fellow playing the pipes.  He was doing a great job too. The walls of the Great Hall were awash with a large collection of ancient weapons.                                                 As with most castles, the gardens are open to the public to wander around and have a picnic if you choose. They  really  liked  cupid  figures. This  is  a great  piece  of  art  – and  a great  message too. The Atholl  Arms  Hotel  – our  lunch  stop.

2013 Summer (Baltic and Britain – Scotland – July 12 – Day 19 – Part 1)

It is not our custom to get up at the crack of dawn and rush off.  We generally leave our hotel or B & B about 10 am and are settled or checking in to the new place between 5-6:30.  We know some people who have to fill every minute of every day on their holidays.  Frankly, the thought of that just makes me tired.  I don’t like coming home from  a holiday needing a rest.  That’s just me.  You holiday anyway you choose.  I am too lazy for a frenetic pace.  Besides, I am old and retired now.  There is no need to rush around.

And so, in our normal fashion, we left our hotel at 10 and drove northwest on Route A9 through the countryside for about a half hour before we reached Killicrankie.The pass between high mountains at Killicrankie is extremely narrow, with the Garry River running far beneath in a deep, dark, rocky channel.  This wooded gorge is a Site of Special Scientific Interest and lies within the Tummel National Scenic Area.  On July 27, 1689 there was a fierce battle between a Jacobite army led by “Bonnie Dundee,” and the government forces.  The Scottish supporters of exiled Bonnie Prince Charlie were the victors.  One soldier escaped by making a spectacular jump across the River Garry at the spot now known as Soldier’s Leap.I don’t think it is a leap I would wish to make.  That is a long way down onto an awful lot of rocks.  Well  done  Mr.  Soldier  for leaping across such a span successfully.We walked the trail down to the bottom and for a short distance under the railway.

2013 Summer (Baltic and Britain – Scotland – July 11 – Day 18 – Part 3)

It was almost 4:30 in the afternoon before we arrived at Scone Palace (pronounced Skoon), which is located about 2 miles north of the city of Perth.For centuries Scone Palace has been the home of the Murray family, the Earl of Mansfield.  The original palace of 1580 was rebuilt in the early 19th century and is one of the finest examples of late Georgian Gothic style in Great Britain. Scone was the ancient crowning place of Scottish kings on the Stone of Scone, also known as the Stone of Destiny.   MacBeth, Robert the Bruce and Charles II were all crowned here.  The stone was taken to Westminster Abbey in London by Edward II in 1296 and only returned to Scotland in 1997.  It now resides in Edinburgh Castle.

Scone was an ancient gathering place of the Picts, and was probably the site of an early Christian church. The place of coronation was called Caislean Credi, ‘Hill of Credulity’, which survives as the present Moot Hill.   In the Middle Ages the mound was marked with a stone cross, but this disappeared, probably during the Scottish Reformation in 1559, when the Abbey buildings were sacked by a mob from Dundee that was led by John Knox.

From 1114 to 1559, Scone was one of Scotland’s major monasteries and later abbeys.  All that remains today is the small Presbyterian chapel atop Moot Hill, which in reality is just a slightly higher piece of land across from the main palace grounds

The  deer  are  statues.A replica of the Stone of Destiny is near the chapel.
The village of Scone at one time was situated within the grounds of the palace.  The medieval house was rebuilt as a Gothic mansion in 1803 and when the grounds were landscaped two years later, the entire village was moved two miles away and became known as ‘New Scone.’

One of the things that the gardens at Scone Palace is famous for is the Star Maze.  This gorgeous maze was designed by international maze designer Adrian Fisher. (Who knew that could be a career?)  The large maze is made of 2,000 copper and green beech trees to reflect the Earl of Mansfield’s family tartan.  The five-point star is part of the family emblem.  I copied the photo below from an internet site to show the size of the thing.  There is a nice viewing platform where you stand above the maze and watch people try find their way to the center.

I  did  a photo-stitch  of  what  we  could  see  from  the  viewing  platform.We arrived back in our hotel in Blairgowrie at 6:15, had dinner and settled in for the night after another wonderful day in Scotland.

2013 Summer (Baltic and Britain – Scotland – July 11 – Day 18 – Part 2)

We arrived at Glamis Castle, childhood home of the late Queen Mother, just after 1 pm.  The inside of the castle is not open to the public, but the gardens and surrounding park are.  We had a lovely wander around for a couple of hours. The gardens at Glamis were beautiful with many pristine white sculptures. The family of  young Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon, future wife of King George VI and mother of Queen Elizabeth II, also had a special resting place for their pets. We were sent on our way by another of the long haired, long horned Highland Cattle.

2013 Summer (Baltic and Britain – Scotland – July 11 – Day 18 – Part 1)

We left our hotel in Blairgowrie at 10 am  and arrived in the town of Kirriemuir half an hour later.  The first thing we saw as we drove into town was a lovely little statue of Peter Pan.Sir James M. Barrie was born here in 1860, one of ten children.  The small house is a museum and the property next door holds an exhibition about Barrie’s life and literary and theatrical works – including an original manuscript of Peter Pan with Barrie’s own notations.  The wash house across the street from his home was his first theater, and his early life with all his brothers and sisters inspired the characters and story lines in his work.Across the lane there is a lovely little garden with another statue of Peter Pan. After Barrie was honoured with the ‘Freedom of the Town’ in 1930 he gifted Kirriemuir with a Camera Obscura.  These fascinating devices give a rotating bird’s eye view of the surrounding landscape on a tabletop surface within the building. There are only three of them left in Scotland and not very many in other parts of the world either.  Unfortunately, it is one of those things you can’t really take photos of but if you ever get the chance to visit one, I encourage you to do so.

Before we left Kirriemuir we drove to the cemetery where Barrie,  his wife, and several of their children are buried.

2013 Summer (Baltic and Britain – Scotland – July 10 – Day 17)

Our objective of the day was Balmoral Castle, the summer residence of the royal family.  Before we left the town of Ballater, where we had spent the night, we drove over to the train station.  The Royal Train Station at Ballater was the end of the journey from London when the royals went north for the summer.  The station is now the Tourist Information Center and was closed until 10 am.  We had left our B & B just after nine  and felt we didn’t want to wait an hour to go inside, so we just took a few photos and headed west to Balmoral. The royal railway car has been retired and is kept on site. The River Dee runs through Balmoral land and is a favourite fishing spot of the royals.  The Balmoral estate is huge, covering 20,000 hectares (50,000 acres) of land between Ballater and Braemar.  It is a working estate with herds of Highland Cattle, ponies, and managed deer.  The estate manages the forests, has grouse moors, and farmland.The parking area is by the royal stables and garage. There are historic displays in many of the garage bays. It is a nice walk through the trees to the castle; which sits majestically at the back of a huge lawn. We  took  the  tour  of  the  rooms  open  to  the  public,  but   no  photos  were  allowed.  The  last  room  was  the  beautiful  ballroom  that  opened  to  a lovely  sunken  garden. The back of the castle is near the forest and a pathway takes you to the edge of the River Dee. There is a path in the forest that will take you to the cemetery where many of the beloved pets of members of the royal family are buried.

Near the pet cemetery is a memorial to Princess Alice. We walked around to the front of the castle and along the vast lawn to the caretakers house.I was tempted to sit on the swing.  I have seen photos of Prince Charles and Princess Anne playing on this swing.The formal gardens are at the end of the lawn and the road continues past the vegetable and flower gardens.  All the flowers for the arrangements in the castle are grown on site and the majority of the vegetables and fruit used by the staff and family is also grown on the estate. The  large  greenhouses  help  with  the  cultivation  of  less  hardy  veggies  and  flowers. We can’t have all the deer eating the produce.We had arrived at Balmoral Castle just a little after 10 am and didn’t leave until 2:30.  It only took about 10 minutes to drive to Braemar Castle, famous for the Braemar Gathering that takes place every summer.  BraemarCastleis The  castle  was  built  in  1628  for  the  Earl  of  Mar.  Its  main  purpose  was  to  defend  his  lands  from  the  neighbouring  Farquharson  clan  of  Inverery  (who  were  actually  vassals  of  the  Earl  of Mar;  which  apparently   did  not  mean much  in  practice).  The  Earl  also  used  the  castle  for  a hunting  lodge  in  the  summer. The  castle  suffered several  attacks  and burnings and sat roofless and abandoned over many years.  The Farquharson family bought it in 1732 and renovations are ongoing.  There are guided tours if you wish to hear the stories or you can walk around on your own.

From Braemar we drove south to Blairgowrie where we spent the night at the Altamount Country House Hotel. The next day we visited Kirrimuir, the birthplace of J. M. Barrie, author of Peter Pan.

2013 Summer (Baltic and Britain – Scotland – July 9 – Day 16 – Part 3)

July 9th was a busy castle garden day.  After we left Drum Castle we drove a short distance west to Crathes Castle.  The lands at Crathes were granted to Alexander Burnard, forester at Drum by Robert the Bruce in 1323.  That is what one calls a bit of history. The castle is not open to the public but the gardens are.  And they were gorgeous.  I have never seen shrubbery so large and so beautifully shaped as they had here.

I am sure they got asked so often about how they clipped these huge shrubs that they posted a photo to show how it is done.One of the things I really liked about Crathes was the colour-themed gardens. There was the blue garden: And the pink garden: And the pink garden: And the yellow garden, which I loved because yellow is my favourite colour: The lavender was in full bloom.

What a beautiful place to sit and rest and enjoy. There was a vine that had gotten into the shrubbery and was gradually covering it in pretty red. I cannot begin to imagine the amount of time it took to arrange and plant and care for all of these lovely gardens.  They are an absolute joy to walk around in but you could not pay me enough to get me toiling among the greenery.Our final stop of a very full day was the Peel Ring of Lumphanan, a giant earthworks from the 13th-century.  It was the site of a fortified residence, perhaps a hunting lodge of the mighty Durward family.  Nothing is left but the massive earthwork foundation. We arrived at the Glen Lui Hotel in Ballater at 6:30 and were very happy to put our feet up.

2013 Summer (Baltic and Britain – Scotland – July 9 – Day 16 – Part 2)

The morning of July 9, 2013 was spent at Castle Fraser and then we stopped at the Cullerlie Stone Circle.  It was almost 3:30 by the time we arrived at Drum Castle, which is famous for its gardens, specifically the rose gardens.  I have a sister who loves roses and has hundreds of them in her garden so I felt, for her, I should check it out.  I love flowers.  I love to look at flowers, and smell fragrant flowers, and photograph flowers, but  I don’t garden.  I have had a few roses in my yard over the years but they have all died and I have never severely mourned their loss as roses actually require care when in your garden.  I prefer to keep my garden work to the absolutely lowest amount of time I can get away with. Renovations are underway.  With so many old buildings in the British Isles there is always ongoing work to keep things from tumbling to ruin.

I don’t envy the people that have to keep all these hedges so neatly trimmed.There were several rose gardens, divided by the century in which they were created and popular. These information  placards  were  everywhere  in  the  garden. Drum Castle gardens are truly lovely. You could spend days taking photos there.  There are so many beautiful features and plantings.