Northward bound: Scotland road trip

Lands High and Low

Tuesday, June 2, to Saturday, June 5

Since we had another week before Chris arrived, we decided to keep the car and cross the border via roads versus waterways.

The weather was what we now define as typical UK:  clouds, showers, sun, cloud, showers, sun… repeat. But, it certainly didn’t dampen our enthusiasm for heading north. The last time I had visited this country was in 2000, and I wanted to expose Max to the inviting warmth of the Scots living in this giant landscape.

We decided to go without reservations thinking it was still too early to worry about not finding a room, especially since the kids’ school half-term had just finished the previous weekend.

Armed with Rick Steves’ Scotland tour guide we left in the morning and began our drive up, skirting Edinburgh heading towards Inverness. To reach that area we drove through Pitlochry where we stopped to spot any salmon running. Too early for them.

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We then entered the dramatic scenery of Scotland’s lowlands into the highlands and the snow-patched, Cairngorm mountains, the highest landmass in Britain. Most of the time it felt like it was just us and the ubiquitous sheep.

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Max saw some deer grazing along the vertical hillsides, and we later discovered it was the one reindeer herd in Scotland.

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Just following the road we ended up passing Balmoral, where we stopped, took some pics of the entrance (and the tour bus to see the grounds)

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and of the church where the royal family worships when in town (August-October or so). The previous church, Crathie Kirk, was where Queen Victoria worshiped for 45 years. Then her daughters, Princesses Louise and Beatrice, organized a two-day bazaar at Balmoral, raising some money to help build a new church, which opened in 1895. Queen Victoria’s beloved John Brown is buried across the road from the church. The royal family continues to worship at the church when at Balmoral with the south transept and porch are reserved for them.

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Soon it was time to check for places to stay and we discovered that it really would have been a good idea to book ahead; yet, we knew we could get rooms within our budget as long as kept asking.

Sure enough on our third time of asking if any rooms, we landed in Dulnain Bridge where we were lucky enough to meet Elle and Malcolm Cooke, owners of Auld Manse. They had just opened their B&B the year before, which meant everything was pristine. Not that it wouldn’t be even after ten years judging by the standards they set.

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I noticed some felt artwork and asked Elle about them. One in particular captured the sensation of being amidst these hills living in a croft (one of the country stone cottages).  Like me some friends Carol W., Kathy W. and Katie P. would appreciate these pieces of art.

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The next morning Malcolm suggested we head for Skye and to make a reservation ahead, which we did.

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After a hearty Scottish breakfast (eggs, bacon, sausage, potato scone, toast, beans, blood sausage, haggis (we opted out of some of the items and I bet you can guess which ones), we took off for the one destination we had agreed on ahead of time:  Culloden Battlefield outside of Inverness. But, we had to take a picture of the squirrel feeders (!) first.

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The non-indiginous gray squirrels have taken over the British red squirrels habitat, so now many people are actually feeding these rodents. The Cookes laughed when we explained to them we trap our red ones in have-a-heart box and release them off island. In short, we do everyting we can to NOT feed them.

The visitors’ center for this 1746 battle was just opened in 2013, and it was one of the more impressive centers for a single battlefield I had been on. The Park-and-Pay sign was in Gaelic as well as English. Similar to Wales, Scotland is ensuring its native tongue doesn’t fade away, so almost all signage we saw is uses both languages.

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Culloden is where Bonnie Prince Charlie (1720-1788), a direct descendent of Mary Queen of Scots, lost his fight to retake the British throne. As one of the Catholic Stuarts, he had been born in Rome, the grandson of King James II/VIII who’d been deposed in 1688 due to his despotism and pro-Catholic stance. This belief in the divine right to rule ran in the family resulting in an unfortunate ending for King Charles I who had his head lopped off by Oliver Cromwell in 1649.

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This April 16, 1746, battle was the last Jacobite uprising (Jacobite comes from the Latin name for ‘James’) with previous ones in 1708, 1715, and 1719 and the last major battle fought on British soil. Placing this war in the context of Scotland vs. England is the romanticized view. A more accurate description is calling this a Civil War between two dynasties:  Stuarts (represented by Prince Charlie) and Hanovers (represented by King George). There were some Red Coats who fought with the Jacobites, and some Scots who fought under the English flag. The reason for the latter is many Scots feared a return to the tyranny of divine rule and Catholicism if a Stuart took the throne. (FYI:  a lot of Scots had converted to Presbyterism, thanks to the rabid preachings of the Scottish John Knox a century earlier.)

I find fascinating the public relations used to further the cause of one side against the other. To incite folk against the Jacobites the English government printed bulletins like the one below depicting an angry mob of Highlanders wrecking havoc among unarmed citizens.

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Prior to walking onto the battlefield, we toured the visitors’ center. The center provided an excellent primer for what took place. Both sides, that of Bonnie Prince Charlie and of the Duke of Cumberland (1721-65), the third and youngest son of King George II, are explained in detail ending with the Jacobites being soundly and finally beaten after winning most of the major battles the year before.

The Jacobites’ military decisions reflected a deep division on exactly how to face the British, who outnumbered them. When Cumberland ended up in Nairn (12 miles from Culloden) after prepping for six weeks in Aberdeen, the Jacobites were undecided how to approach him, or even if they should engage the English right away. Some Clan chiefs wanted to withdraw and then ambush Cumberland’s army in the Highland passes. The Highlanders were expert at hand-to-hand combat, firing their muskets at close range then ferociously charging the enemy screaming and yelling with deadly weapons.

Unfortunately, Charlie and some of his other commanders argued for a stand-and-fight battle. The latter won out, but only to lose big time the next day. Not only were the Jacobites outnumbered, they were also exhausted. The night before the battle Charlie had sent his soldiers out to launch a surprise attack on Cumberland and his troops (the Duke was throwing his own b’day bash that night). The Jacobites never made it because of the slow-going through thick woodland, rain and fog. They retreated, only adding exhaustion to their list of woes. The map below shows the troops leaving for the surprise attack (bottom line) then returning (top lines).

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Even by morning there was an opportunity for the Jacobites to withdraw to Inverness and recoup their strength, but Prince  Charlie refused to listen to his senior commanders, and the Battle at Culloden Moor was fought. The result:  Charlie didn’t only lose his chance at being King. He also lost the Highlanders their way of life.

To ensure the Jacobite cause would not come back to haunt them, the English under Cumberland’s leadership (later he earned the title ‘Butcher’) ruthlessly demolished the Highlanders and their clan system. The victors hunted down over 3,000 who fought for Charlie. Many died in prison while 120 were given trials with the verdict pretty much pre-determined, publicly executed, then put on display as warnings to anyone thinking of rising up.

On display was a 1644 legal text referenced and marked by Lord Balmerino who used it during his trial for treason. He was executed in August 1746.

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Some Jacobites were sold into slavery and transported across the Atlantic, which is how some friends of mine came to be in Maine due being descendants of those sent abroad.

Kilts and tartans were outlawed, Chieftains lost their legal power and clansmen, their weapons.

Bonnie Prince Charlie escaped thanks to Flora MacDonald hiding him. She then dressed him as her maid allowing him to escape to the Isle of Skye. Supposedly he used this compass when on the run.

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On September 20 he finally managed to get on a French ship and hightail it out of Scotland. He continually tried to raise support for his cause but no one took him up on it, and Prince Charles Edward Stuart died in Rome and in obscurity until later revived in a romantic depiction. Flora, for her efforts, was thrown into the Tower of London but was later released and became a cause celebre. A few days later we saw her grave on the Isle of Skye.

The Jacobite cause, however, soon became romanticized thanks to heroic poems and ballads. In the 1780s visitors began touring the Highland areas. Walter Scott’s novel Waverley increased the interest in the Highlands, and he created a grand pageant for the visiting King George IV. And, because this king wore a kilt, the tartans came back into fashion.

Rick Steves theorized that it was due to Charlie losing the war that led to our American revolution. Steves’ ‘what-if’ cogitation is… if the Bonnie Prince won, there wouldn’t have been the Seven Years’ War with France… taxes wouldn’t have been raised… so American colonists probably wouldn’t have felt the need to revolt. Who knows?

Out on the battlefield there’s a croft where a family lived until the early 1900s. An interesting connection to the 1746 battle is from a story relayed by the grandmother. A wounded Jacobite who lost his hand in the battle ran into their house (it wasn’t the one we saw on the battlefield) only to sizzle his stump on the iron pot to staunch the bleeding. Not something I’d need to witness.

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After listening to the audio-guide and reading the center’s displays, we felt like we had stepped back in time. We definitely left there glad we had made it one of our primary goals of the road trip. And, Max said he understood the poignancy of some songs a favorite group, Schooner Fare, has sung over the years, such as “Bonnie Prince Charlie” and “Loch Lomond”. Scotland had entered our hearts and souls.

Before leaving the area we stopped at Balnuaran of Clava, Neolithic burial sites. The rings of stones were once covered with the entrances lining up with a winter solstice setting sun. Not a lot is known about these structures but to walk around and into these chambers once used over 3,000 years ago is worth a visit.

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On our way west we drove along Loch Ness and stopped in at Urquhart Castle to take some photos for our friend Joanne Urquhart. We decided not to do the tour but were glad we got some pictures peering through the buses from the parking lot.

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That night we landed on the west coast just a few miles from the Isle of Skye. Our room in Dornie was comfortable and well-outfitted, just like the Cooke’s Auld Manse. We unpacked then went across the lane to a hopping pub where we met some other travelers:  father-son motorcyclists and a young couple from D.C. (both born in Italy). We also met a few locals, one being the bartender who was originally from Toronto area. No live music but the camaraderie, local beer, and food made up for it.

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And, there was a castle five minutes from our room, The Eilean Donan Castle.

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It’s one of the most photographed castles but it’s really less than 100 years old. Although, the current structure was built on a site where a castle stood until destroyed in battle in 1719. You might recognize it from several movies: Sean Connery’s Highlander (1986) and a 1999 James Bond film (The World Is Not Enough).

The next morning we left for Skye, just 10 miles away and connected by a bridge. It was showery and gray but patches of sunlight filtered through, and we made the most of driving these winding roads. Similar to driving through the Cairngorms, these ‘hills’ were magnificent, making us feel very, very wee indeed.

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The scenery was awe-inspiring but so were some of the folk we met. We met a touring Aussie couple, both retired now and enjoying a major trip each year. We ended up meeting up at several sites (there’s only one road around, and in many instances only one lane).

We pulled into another overlook next to a guy enjoying his hot chocolate while surveying the Outer Hebrides in the distance (Skye is one of the Inner Hebrides). We got out to peer at the view and met Steve, one of the happiest people you can run into. He had delivered a small container to someone on Skye and was just enjoying the stretch of seascape. He and his wife are from England but had moved to Ireland so she could raise horses and he could focus on buying and selling vintage motorcycles. His outlook on life was so cheerful it was contagious. We found ourselves not really wanting to leave; yet, we wanted to tour the next peninsula over, which meant continuing our circumnavigation of the island.

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Well, we should have stayed with Steve for no more than five miles down the road, after visiting Flora MacDonald’s grave,

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we heard a funny sound. Rolling down my window I noticed it got worse. Sure enough, we had a big ole’ flat tire.

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We were just up the hill from Uig where a gas station was located, so we shot up the sad tire with that white stuff rental cars have in lieu of spares, and limped down to the station. Here we met another friendly person who let us use her phone. After an hour on the phone with Enterprise Car Rental and a roadside service, we finally learned the best option was to head back to Dornie (we got permission from Enterprise to drive on the inflamed tire) and call the roadside service once we reached our room. (The service would have sent out someone from Fort Williams or Inverness, both two-to-three hours away, which seemed stupid considering there were tire shops in two towns right on the island.)

Shortening a long string of frustrating misinformation calls, we discovered we were responsible for getting the tire fixed and could have just gone straight to one of the tire places and had it fixed within an hour. But, this did give us another opportunity to appreciate the hospitality and openess of these islanders.

Our second night at the pub we met up with young Italian couple who invited us to share a table (the place was packed once again with locals and travelers, always a good sign for a pub :).

The next morning we returned to Skye where we met a few more locals (yet, like the woman in Uig, one has also immigrated here from England) and got our tire fixed.

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We then left for Oban, further south along another beautiful road,

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stopping for our picnic lunch

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and to take advantage of some signage close to Oban.

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Again, we lucked out with a small B&B out of town. We ate our picnic dinner and even watched a Bond movie on the TV.

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Saturday morning we decided to head for home but not before retracing our steps a bit to reach a marina on the outskirts of Oban. My Dad, his wife Micki, and my siblings and nephews had some meals there when we were touring the area in 2000. It was nostalgic but not the same, so I was glad to grab a few photos and then head back into the present.


Our last stop in Scotland was Stirling Castle.


This fortress sits above an expanse of countryside with memorials to William Wallace at one site (far in the distance on the left) and Robert the Bruce at another (on the right in the background).


What was more impressive, we found, was the Church of the Holy Rude next door bounded by its cemetery hosting graves as old as 1600s.



This church was where Mary Queen of Scots held her son’s Roman Catholic baptism. Within several months, though, events changed dramatically with Mary leaving her son and fleeing to England after being accused of murdering her second husband, Lord Darling. During this time the religion of choice switched to Protestantism; and, inside we saw the plaque indicating where her 13-month old son, James VI, was crowned by that fiery Presbyterian preacher, John Knox July 29, 1567.


Back in the car and three hours later we arrived home to JUANONA at Amble Marina. Now, prepping for Max’s son Chris who arrives June 9th for a sail up the coast and passage to Norway :)


4 thoughts on “Northward bound: Scotland road trip

  1. Allan Jarvis (@jarvisallan)

    I hope you’re enjoying some Scotch Malts while in Scotland. I think that Scarpa is made on the Isle of Skye. My favorites are all on the western islands; the peaty, smokey, salty matls, like Lagavullin, Laphroig, Bowmore, Adrberg and Cul lla. Have one or two for me while you’re there. Perfect day on Bailey Island; 80’s sunny, light breeze – nice! Have fun!

    1. margaretlynnie

      Ahh, 80’s sound like heaven. We’re still enveloped in down vests and fleece whenever we get off the boat, it seems, in spite of sun. Max, Chris and I did visit Glenfiddich (sp?) Distillery yesterday including sampling the 12, 14, 15, and 18 year old scotches (except Max as driver could only sniff them). We could have used your expertise to find us others! Off to Lerwick tomorrow unless winds look okay for Norway. Enjoy the boating on Merriconeag. Your weather sounds perfect!