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.
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.
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.
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.