Sheep, Castles, and Glens

How terrific to wake up to the spectacular view outside our window at Donan House. Eileen Donan castle set majestically on its island is something we’ll never forget. Dave was looking at it out the window when I woke up.

I asked him “Is the castle still there?” He whispered to me: “Yes, but there are invading Vikings attacking!!”. LOL

Dave wanted to get another look and took a walk down at the water’s edge. We weren’t able to see the castle at high tide, but even at low tide it was wonderful.

We had a very nice breakfast downstairs and chatted with one of the owners, Jim. He and his wife Dot, have a very special spot there and they were extremely nice.

It was turning out to be another lovely day. We have been so blessed with good weather so far. We would be having a slightly lighter schedule today, but we needed to get it started, so Helen and Moraig got us of our way.

The amount of spectacular scenery is just never ending and we were not disappointed today either. We drove through Glenshiels with a brilliant view of The Five Sisters of Kintail mountains and as we were driving, there was a sign warning to watch for Feral Goats, to which Helen replied “I’ve never seen a feral goat.” And sure enough, about five minutes later, we saw about a dozen of them grazing along the side of the road!

Our first major stop today was at Urquhart Castle on the shores of the infamous Loch Ness. No, we did not see Nessie, the sea monster, but we DID see one heck of a castle ruin, shrouded in fog, in a magical setting.

The fog didn’t dampen our spirits at all. In fact it kind of accentuated the experience and gave this castle a type of aura. Dave and I really loved this castle and we will not spoil the opening film you should see before going to the castle, but it is a MUST DO!

While walking through one part of the ruin, there were three or four windows deeply cut out of stone. We were actually just walking by them, when I happened to look down into one and there is one lonesome bat just hanging out by himself on the rocks. We all took photographs and pointed out the little guy to others. Normally, I don’t like bats, but he was all by himself, not flying and was outside in a deep window, so it didn’t. He was enjoying the castle like we were.

We stopped for lunch at the Urquhart cafe and all ended up getting scones. Yum! Then, in a stop at the gift store, Dave had the idea to buy our own sheep like Morag, so we did and eventually named him Duncan, Ironically, Morag was a gift to Helen from a tour customer a couple of years ago and she bought her at this same gift shop, which we did not know.

Our drive continued south to Fort Augustus where we viewed the Caledonian Canal and watched some boats going through the locks, then we took a walk along the canal to see the most southern tip of Loch Ness.

Loch Ness is pretty fascinating in both depth and length. Loch Ness’ deepest point, at 227 miles is more than TWICE the average depth of the North Sea. We stopped at a local grocery store here and picked up some goodies for breakfast since we would have to fend for ourselves for breakfast the next two mornings at Helen’s cabin.

Then we visited Lagen Dam with some pretty phenomenal mountains views reflected in the glassy, still water of Loch Lagen.

Dave and I are fans of the old BBC series called Monarch of The Glen. The series was from England, but set and filmed on location in Scotland. Once we knew we’d be near that area, we asked Helen if we could stop and get a view of three oft used locations.

The first one is a hilltop church and graveyard called Cille Choirill Church. It was used in a few funeral scenes and a few other scenes we remembered vividly. It’s set up on the side of a pretty step hill, but Helen got that new crossover vehicle up and we were rewarded with a beautiful afternoon to explore the grounds. It’s just a brilliant, and romantic spot. Of course, there were sheep!

As we drove down from the church Helen asked if Dave and I would say we’re in Monarch of The Glen country. We both said “Yes!” and she then produced the theme song from the series on her CD player! It was perfect, and just another personalized touch she added to our adventure that meant a great deal to us.

Our next stop on the Monarch Tour was to hopefully get a glimpse of the Ardivickie Estate that was the centerpiece of the entire series, very similar to Downton Abbey. It is a private residence not open for tours and you’re unable to see it from the drive it is on, so our only hope was good weather, few leaves on the trees, and hoping Helen could find a spot to pull over on the narrow roads once we got a clear view of it across Loch Lagan. All of the stars aligned (or was it all Helen?) and we had a terrific shot of what Dave and I know as Glen Bogle House.

Then a little further down the road we were able to see the Gatelodge or main entry gate to the estate. You can rent out the gate house and it’s like a mini version of the big house. It appeared they haven’t kept up its appearance since the series ended, but it’s still adorable and is featured in a lot of shows. Very glad we had the opportunity to see it.

We had a very nice dinner at the Moulin Hotel pub and shared a table for a bit with an older couple who were trying out their 20 foot motor home for the first time. The man seemed to like it, but his wife said “The jury’s still out.” LOL They also had two dogs with them in the pub, which we discovered is quite normal and accepted over there. Kind of nice, if they’re well behaved.

Helen owns a lovely little cabin next to a farm in the village of Killiecrankie, outside Pitlochry. Its formal name is The Lodge at Strathgarry. The river that runs by the area is the River Garry. As part of our tour, Helen is renting the cabin out to us for two nights and she’ll stay at a local B&B. It’ll be like we have our own country cabin in Scotland!

A winding, narrow road lead us to a small group of four Norwegan-made cabins sitting beside a babbling brook overlooking a pasture filled with sheep and baby lambs. Oh, and of course there was another spectacular view of hills. It was idlic.

Helen gave us a tour, turned on the heat, water, and their small electric fireplace and the warmth and coziness just oozed from every seam.

I, on the other hand, was oozing tired. Things had caught up with me and I had a hard time communicating and moving. LOL Helen, bless her heart, filled up two hot water bottles. She gave one to me on the leather sofa and put the other one in the bed to take the chill off, Then she made me a pot of tea, set out a plate of good Scottish shortbread and covered me up with a soft tartan blanket. Ahhhhh…how nice was that! I started to fade soon after Helen left us and quickly fell asleep.

25 Years in The Making

After a lovely breakfast at Viewfield House and a chat with its owner Hugh MacDonald, Helen picked us up and we set out to explore the south-west side of Skye before heading back to the main land.

Another fun sighting were the large, docile Highlander cattle. Helen told us they come in six colors and I think we saw them all in this trip. They certainly are imposing creatures as they mosey along in their fields.

We passed two flat-topped mountains called MacLeod’s Tables. Helen told us a fabulous story about the MacLeod chieftain offering a dinner to traveling clan chiefs with his own men circling the tops of each mountain with torches. Must have been an impressive sight.

Helen drove us to an area called Waternish where we stopped at the ruins of St. Mary’s church and a graveyard. The church was originally built in the 1500’s. High up on a hill behind the church was a stone erected in 2000 called the Duirinish Stone. For some reason the path leading up to the church was calling my name and I felt compelled to follow it. Twice along the path I felt I should probably stop due to a steep incline or muddy path, but I continued to the top. It was a beautiful view, but horribly windy and and cool, so I didn’t linger.

We wandered around the remarkable graveyard that was heavily used by the Clan MacCleod. It was a beautiful spot and Helen said it was quite an unusual graveyard due to the hilliness. Some of the words written on the tombstones were very eloquent and it was a wonderful setting.

Helen then took us to a broch. Dave and I had no idea what this was, so we were intrigued after she told us what it was. Dun Beag is a broch, one of around five hundred to be found across mainly the north and west of Scotland. Brochs were built in the last centuries BC and the first centuries AD. So, they’re older than castles. We walked up a fairly steep hill in some pretty dramatic winds, but it was worth it when we arrived at the top.

It seems that most Iron Age, land-owning families lived in these kinds of stone structures. They would have had several levels for storage, food, and daily living. It’s a fascinating structure and one probably few people in the U.S. are aware of.

We worked up an appetite climbing that hill and stopped for lunch at a hikers hotel/restaurant. We were certainly feeling like hikers at this point, but the group of husky, well-built, outdoorsy men sitting at three or four tables appeared to be the real deal.

Dave tried a tasty soup called cock a leekie, which is basically chicken (cock) and leeks (leekie). He loved it! Another Scottish winner. There was a lovely bridge across from the restaurant with a great view, although fog was covering the mountain tops, it was still fabulous and we took many photos.

Now came the moment Dave had been waiting 25 years to see: Eilean Donan castle! The first time he visited Scotland, there was a mix up in travel plans and he never got to it. It was very disappointing and he was REALLY looking forward to seeing it on this trip. We were even staying in a guest house that is literally across the street.

We walked over to the castle and Dave was just like a little boy, then to add to the excitement a helicopter and police boat were doing drills on dropping people into the boat and picking them up again. I had to admit watching this WAS exciting, but it got old after awhile and there was a castle waiting!

The castle was founded in the thirteenth century, and became a stronghold of the Clan Mackenzie and their allies the Clan Macrae. In the early eighteenth century the Mackenzies were involved in the Jacobite rebellions, which led to the castle’s destruction by government ships in 1719. The present buildings are the result of twentieth-century reconstruction of the ruins. But even though you know a good deal of it was rebuilt somewhat recently, it was still really fascinating and well done.

Above the main entrance is a Gaelic inscription which in translation reads: “As long as there is a Macrae inside, there will never be a Fraser outside”, referring to a bond of kinship between the two clans. Despite scaffolding setup for some re-work, the castle is beautiful. As we exited the castle, we discovered a group of Scottish dancers in the parking lot (car park) who were dancing in normal plain clothes to Scottish songs, mainly the song “Eilean Donan”. They were going to historic spots and dancing. Great fun!

We ate dinner in town at a local pub that had some slow service, they we headed to Donan House, our hotel for the night with possibly the best view of the castle. Our room had THE view and Dave was beyond thrilled when it finally became darker out (not until about 9:45) and they flood lit the castle, Really beautiful!

Landscapes and a Claw Foot Tub!

The weather Gods were smiling on us today! Sunny, light winds and no rain. Just perfect! Our morning started out with that fantastic view from Dailanna House, a tasty breakfast and a day will with delightful surprises and scenery.

The drive from Glenfinnan to Mallaig was filled with everything from the beautiful White Sands of Morar to helping a lost dog.

The striking white sands of Morar were the perfect foil to all of the heather, ferns, and grasses that hadn’t yet greened up with new growth for 2013. I immediately took my shoes off and did little beach combing. I did NOT stick my toes in the water. The sand was much cooler than I was expecting so I wasn’t about to “test the waters” so to speak.

As we were getting ready to leave, an adorable sheepdog came trotting to us and didn’t seem to belong anywhere. Helen was smart enough to look at his tags on collar and his name was Spot (was expecting something a wee big more Scottish) and he belonged to the Hendersons. Helen decided to call them to see if they were missing a dog…they were and said they’d be down in 5 minutes to pick spot us. So, we took turns holding his collar so he wouldn’t run off again. Mr. Henderson arrived and thanked us and Operation Spot was complete!

We then caught the short ferry ride from Malaig to Armadale. The winds were howling on board and I ended up going inside for most of it because it was quite cold, but it was uneventful except for the fact almost everyone with a alarm on their car had it going off at one point or another.

After landing on Skye and driving off the ferry, we started the most amazing trek on the island along the island then up and around the Trotternish peninsula. Each bend in the road created a new landscape of color, texture, and scale. We’ve never seen anything like it and Helen loves to share that beauty with people. Her excited adds to our excitement.

Skye has everything: rolling hills, grassy moors, jagged rocks, peat-filled fields, sparkling lochs, soaring mountains and of course, the ocean. There was almost too much to look at. Either side of the car produced a series of little stories. Helen put in a CD of music of Robert Burns sung by Eddi Reader. She has an amazing voice and Robbie Burn’s words set to modern, Celtic music is beautiful. I hope to download if from iTunes at some point.

We continued past the Old Man of Storr – an amazing rock formation high up in a cliff. Speaking of cliffs, we stopped atop a very windy cliff top to view the waterfalls and the rock formation at Kilt Rock. The power and and beauty of the rocks and the water in that area is breathtaking. And their signs warning of impending danger, struck me funny.

Dave and I asked Helen to pull over in several locations, We both wanted to get photos of those ever-prevalent sheep and some of the newest member to the moor, those baby lambs. Soooo cute! Helen travels with a small, white stuffed sheep given to her by a customer and she travels wi it and take photos of her in many locations. Called Morag, she has kind of become a sort of mascot this trip, putting in many appearances.

We stopped to see croft houses and the spectacular ruins of Duntulm Castle at the very tip of Trotternish Peninsula. Again, just more beauty and with some super weather. We’ve been very blessed.

Our final surprise was to appear at a fairy tale room at Viewfield House in Portree. Helen had recommend we stay there and Dave booked the room. We had no idea it would be as grand as it was. Two fireplaces, fantastic views of harbor, large antique furniture pieces and a claw foot tub in the very large bathroom. Jaw dropping and delightful all the way around. Hugh MacDonald, owner and host, met us and helped with our bags.

We then met with Helen and had dinner down overlooking the colorful little Portree harbor at the Rosemont Hotel & Restaurant. An excellent meal! Dave even tried the local whiskey, Talisker. He enjoyed it.

Helen dropped us off, then went to her B&B, the. Dave and I asked Hugh for a night cap. We ordered up two Drambuie and took them up to our room where we promptly, and FINALLY were able to have a drink and a toast Scotland…IN Scotland.

Of course I took a bath in the claw foot tub too, are you kidding me? How could I not.