Thursday, November 30, 2006

Orkney - side trip

We have a rule - if you see a ferry sign, you have to take it.

That has taken us afar. We were on Skye - easily visited, the island to which Bonnie Prince Charlie fled, and now connected by a bridge from the mainland. Off to the Hebrides. Then, back at Ullapool on the mainland, we headed to the Highlands because the weather was good. Do not attempt in the fog, because many roads are one lane, with laybys for passing.

At the Highlands at Scrabster (near the topmost point of Scotland, at John o'Groats), there was a sign for the Orkneys - so we took the car ferry to Orkney.

Do not expect to be coddled. We had no advance reservation, so had to be on line with other cars and trucks by 5 or 6 in the morning. See Orkney Road Ways. If the chain comes down in front of you, you lose. We made this one. Enjoyed Orkney, then we returned to Scrabster, same ferry route.

It was the quickest and least expensive, way to get to Orkney. No flights for us once a car is rented. Spontaneous routing. Sleep on the ferry.

Saturday, November 18, 2006

Pitlochry: Victoria's Favorite. Blair Castle, Atholl

Pitlochry apparently was Queen Victoria's favorite town, and it boasts a fine railway station to show for it.  Go to Pitlochry for hiking year-round, with special events and all skill levels fostered.

The place is filled with people in boots, and shops. The old train station used to be going all the time, and is still very busy. There are grades of hiking trails, each with its own historical tales. One has the soldier's leap - a fellow leaped 18 feet across the gorge here, to escape the Jacobites. See

Blair Castle, at Atholl - with the Atholl Highlanders - is nearby. See more at Scotland Road Ways - Atholl.

Friday, November 17, 2006

Sheep; the clearances; crofters

Sheep, herding, Scotland
There came a time when landlords realized they could make more money with sheep on the land, than if they continued to rent to "crofters." So, they initiated clearances, forcing crofters off the land, so the more lucrative sheep could take over.

Sheep are still a main industry, with the dogs herding. There is the dog, to the far left. I believe the animals nearby are a cow or two, to test the dog's ability to stay after the sheep and not get distracted. The dogs are guided by whistles tweeting from the owner, at a distance.

For a fine photo gallery for a Scotland overview: see

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Tower Houses, Scotland's Family Castles

Scots tower house, Highlands, Scotland

The original tower houses were just square towers.

Tower houses were imposing, highly fitted for defense. 

Tower House, Scotland, near Inverness (as I recall)

Compare Norman and Scots tower houses.  Scots tower houses are different from the Norman tower houses seen in Ireland, from an earlier era. This tower house ruin is from Ireland, between Rosslare and Waterford.

Norman Tower House, Ireland (between Rosslare and Waterford)

Wednesday, November 15, 2006


Balmoral Castle was closed to the public when we were there - with no way to get reasonably close. Look beyond, through the trees. We were there in the fall, so had better visibility than summer tourists in the same boat. The British Royal Family uses this as its home in Scotland - see

Do consider fall travel. The heather was lovely and russet.

Castles Stalker and Eilean Donan

There are so many Scots castles and manor houses, that we only went to those on our way, and did not even try to see them all. See for a list of Scots castles. This large castle is Eilean Donan, with refurbished and refurnished rooms and wax figures (as in Madame Tussaud's) in action: kitchen staff at work, a lady choosing her gown, butlers. There is even a bridge now to get to it. Before, the tides coming in served as a fine defense. See more on the layout and history at

Eilean Donan Castle, Loch Duich, Scotland

The church structure originally on the site in the 600's was named for a martyr, Donnan of Eigg, a Celt, and no trace remains.  In the 13th Century, a castle was built for refuge for the Mackenzies and the MacRaes. It was destroyed in the 1700's in the Jacobite rebellions. The ruins were reconstructed in the 20th Century. .

This smaller castle, on the island, is not open to visitors. It is Castle Stalker, north of Oban. It is not occupied, but is a fine backdrop to a walk on the beach area at the loch. See Building on peninsulas or islands made sense for security. From reading, it appears that the men were often away fighting, thus the high and narrow windows for defense.

Castle Stalker,

Spending the night: Go first to the castle you want to see, then look for a nearby B&B or hotel. Do not go to the town first, and then look for the castle. It may be at a distance. If you find the castle first, and stay near it, you can enjoy the evening and the morning light near the site, and walk around, and without getting back in the car. See

Saturday, November 11, 2006

Loch Ness; Castle Urquhart; Inverness glens;

Inverness, Loch Ness, Castle Urquhart, Scotland

Castle Urquhart, at the top, is on the shore of Loch Ness. We did wait for Nessie who is said to reside in the deep, but she did not appear. See

Trebuchet.  There was a huge medieval catapult construction there, where people were trying to follow the directions and hurl a good one. There is a picture of the catapult at This site says that the task was to build a siege machine that would dash a wall at 200 yards. It was the subject of a TV special. See

Scotland in the fall was gold and warm. Misty evenings, mornings.

The formations that enable lochs, and the highlands, would be excellent geo-tourism sites because of the geological sites and attractions. See book "Geotourism" by Ross Dowling at this site:

Glen, Scotland

Friday, November 10, 2006

Melrose Abbey - The Heart of Robert the Bruce; Dunfirmline

Melrose Abbey, burial marker, Heart of Robert the Bruce, Scotland

The heart of Robert the Bruce is buried at Melrose Abbey, one of the border Abbeys in southern Scotland.  See For more details, see  The burial of the heart of Robert the Bruce apart from the body was not unusual in that day. See custom still practiced, at  France has a long history of the practice, see

The body of Robert the Bruce is elsewhere, at the Abbey Church at Dunfirmline, the capital until 1603. We followed R the B wherever we found a sign. As in many hundreds of thousands (probably) of families with Scots and Scots-Irish backgrounds, there is a Robert Bruce going back generations. That does not mean a relationship, maybe just a revering.

The "Brave Heart" phrase that is attached to Rob Roy MacGregor, historically seems to belong to the story of Robert the Bruce. See the "Scottish Wars of Independence" site at The account has Sir James Douglas, a close friend of the then King Robert the Bruce, following R the B's wishes in taking R the B's heart on crusade. Blocked in Spain, Douglas is said to have called out, "On, Brave Heart," and more, and hurled the heart toward the Holy Land. How did Brave Heart get attached to Rob Roy? Anyone know?

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Food - Haggis; black/blood pudding; full Scots breakfast, times to eat

Here:  Haggis and Blood Pudding
Full Scots Breakfast
I.  Haggis Baggis.
Haggis delicious.  Robert Burns composed an Address, a celebratory poem to its presentation.  Orate at
This dish is a sheep's stomach stuffed with offal, some spices and oats and etc. It was first referenced in an English text in 1615, see; and, at this site, is said to have been around in England centuries before it appeared in Scotland. See /.

Fair use thumbnail of a haggis from  While you are there, look up the white mealy pudding. We get no kickbacks for references, but looks good for other British food products.
Haggis: It is made this way:
Get various sheep innards (stomach, liver, heart, tongue), some suet, onions, oatmeal, saltandpep, and start.  For a modern version, see .  From the BBC: -- you can use an ox secum, a lamb lung, and you will need spices for this one (coriander, mace, nutmeg).
Compare the haggis to our more familiar hot dog idea: stuffing a casing.  Haggis uses the stomach, and a real hot dog uses intestines.  If you are unfamiliar with the haggis ingredients, think hotdog in new shape and with minced-chopped parts plus grains as in the texture of our sausage, not a puree goo. Feel better now? Hot dog ingredients? Try to find out. They won't tell you. See or . Or  At least the Brits are honest about their ingredients.
Earlier ethnic versions probably would have you catch and butcher your sheep.  Go to your local Big Supermarket and ask for the ingredients, and follow instructions. Then report.
Then try haggis lasagne, see

II.  Blood pudding, or black pudding. 
This is more difficult to eat if it is not freshly made, unless you are a chewer. It dries out once sliced and fried up, so eat fast and get it fresh. Arrive at the breakfast buffet early; or the pub tastybits. We like it, but get used to a gumminess.  Fair use thumbnail from

 Black Pudding
Get onions, oatmeal, pork fat, and pig blood. And seasonings.  See and In France, find boudin noir.  The product is also found in Cajun and other Southern USA cooking.
Most people seem to buy it, then incorporate it into whatever else they are making. Scroll down to the list of recipes and choose one. Or go to It is also known as blood pudding. Go to the recipe list and do your own. For the Luxembourg version, that uses cabbage instead of oatmeal, see Luxembourg Road Ways, Black Pudding.

Full Scots Breakfast

Full Scots or Scottish breakfast:  See the photo at the BBC blackpudding site.  Look up a picture. Add to it: grilled tomatoes, baked beans, and a variety of breads. Excellent. See also
Eating times in Scotland are limited in the rural areas. You may stop for an off-hours meal and only get cheese, if anything - such as at midday, when you may want much more. When that happens, go to a local grocery and buy what you need instead, if the cheese is not enough.  In many countries, "restaurant" means full food; other places that entitle themselves a cafe, or some pubs, do not offer full meals.
Eating at pubs is a good idea. They are less expensive than tablecloth restaurants, and usually offer a good selection of main dishes at a proper mealtime. Many offer a carvery - a pub where there is a whole roast out for slicing and sandwiches, platters.

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Itinerary After The Fact

Glasgow, Stirling, Inveraray, Tarbert, Campbelltown, Oban, Glencoe, Fort William, Skye (Dunvegan, Portree), ferry to the Hebrides (Harris and Lewis), ferry to Ullapool, Durness, Tongue, Straty, Scrabster, John O'Groats, Thurso, ferry to Orkney, ferry to Thurso, then Wick, Dingwall, Inverness, Pitlochry, Edinburgh, Dumfries, Ayr, Largs, Glasgow.

See also

Saturday, November 04, 2006

Freedom! Scots Petition for Devolution and Possible Independence

Scotland just wants to be free.

See what we found: Here is a petition you can sign, if eligible, to promote the independence of Scotland from Great Britain. "Devolution" is the term for the events in 1999 that provided for Scotland to have its own parliament, but the move continues for more independence than that. See William Wallace would be pleased.

More on the News: Just go to the dot com home page and navigate from there. Dateline was 11/3/06 - Majority in Scotland wants independence. Here is an accounting of some of the problems:

Longevity of the idea: With the Declaration of Arbroath in 1320, and wars after, this idea clearly has legs. See the William Wallace and Robert the Bruce posts here.

More blogs about Scotland Road Ways.

Friday, November 03, 2006

Balquhiddar. MacGregor Despite Them - Rob Roy

Balquhidder, Rob Roy MacGregor grave, Scotland

The Trossachs is an area of lochs and mountains. Rob Roy and his family are buried here. The English tried to stamp out the MacGregor name, forbidding anyone to use it. See  It is said that many MacGregors in the villages, after the name ban, took the name of White, or Black. See

Are we one of those, the Blacks of Grandmother Teressa Black fame?  Probably not, but how to tell.

Some went back to MacGregor - meanwhile, they were also called Children of the Mist. See There he is.  He refused to drop the name:  MacGregor Despite Tnem reads the inscription.

His arms are very long in the statue shown at the site. They say his arms hung down to his knees, and that is why he was such a fierce swordsman. More history, the legend, and pictures, are at The film is often rerun: Rob Roy with Liam Neeson, who is far taller than short Rob Roy here. The filming took place in a similar area, see this map:

The grave is at Balquhidder Kirk (Church). Under the crest at the grave is written, "MacGregor despite them." A while back I found on YouTube a short video of the church and this gravesite. Go look.

Getting there:

Take the back road, not the main one, and you will come to an old manor house, where the people serve soup and tea and sandwiches. A real home, trying to make ends meet. The Rob Roy residence itself was a long walk, a dirt road going farther away than I was comfortable doing by ourselves, so we didn't do it this trip. It also was getting late. Plan the time and do it if you get there.

* See YouTube and Rob Roy's Grave. History at Rob Roy History; Trossachs area, including Balquhidder, at Trossachs.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Highland cattle, Scotland

Highland cattle are an old breed. Shaggy. See Highland cattle at

The Queen maintains a herd at Balmoral, some 40 "breeding cows and followers,"  see Country Life magazine, a venerable London weekly dating from Victoria's time, August 15, 2012 issue.  They are usually reddish in color, but some are a tan-dun, or black, or even white, or a mix -- brindle. Its meat has less cholesterol than pork, lamb and chicken, says the article, In Praise of the Ruddy Highlanders, by Tessa Waugh, in that issue.  

There are herds of Highland Cattle now in the United States. Find them in the Poconos even.

Among other now-considered-exotic breeds are the Belted Galloways, with the belly stripe, black and white. Oreo cattle. See

Driving back roads leads to an interest in the varieties of breeds of sheep also, and goats.  We are too accustomed to Holsteins. See for the many types of livestock.

There is also a large herd of the highland cattle on Skye.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Clan map

Try this one, for tracking where clans came from, and the clan sept names associated with them, the major towns in the areas, and miscellany: