Friday, May 15, 2009

Scotland, part I

Leaving Cumbria Monday morning and following a route Jim had traced for us, we set out on a sunny morning for Scotland making our way up through Glasgow and headed for Troon.

Along the way we stopped in, briefly, at Gretna and Gretna Green, famous since the 18th century as a place of elopement for couples who could not, for various reasons, marry in England. It was horrible. The marriage houses, as they are called, are still there, but have been converted to tourist traps of the worst sort. I’ll spare you the details. But it made Reno look like a garden spot.

Partly because of the narrowness of the roads, we did not stop to take a lot of photographs along the way, but the scenery was quite grand.

Throughout this trip, Sharon still must work her twenty (often more) hours a week, so our sine qua non for lodgings is internet access, not so easy to find in remote areas, it turned out, but we lucked into the Pierpont House Hotel in Troon, especially so as the place is a golfing centre and we happened into some sort of run up for the event. The hotel was built as a home by Alexander Walker, heir to the Johnnie Walker fortune. The hotel was lovely and dinner was quite good.

From Troon, we struck out for Loch Lomond and the Highlands. I’ll let that scenery speak for itself.

We ended the second day in Fort William at a lovely little guest house, the Ardgowan Guest House. Fort William is the jumping off place for those who both walk the highlands and scale Ben Nevis. It seemed like everyone at the hotel was disgustingly fit and ready to take on the UK’s largest mountain. One fellow I spoke to was in the second year of an effort to walk from Land’s End to John o Groats, that is from one end of Great Britain to the other.

We toyed with the idea of heading from Fort William to Inverness, which would have added a day to our time in the Highlands, but would also have taken Edinburgh or York off the itinerary, so decided from Pitlochry to head to St. Andrews via a route that I could not retrace the next morning. Throughout this stage of the trip, we have more or less followed an itinerary laid out by Jim Marshall earlier this week and I must say that the scenery has been superb. The only real disappointment has been Pitlochry, which was rather touristy.

From Pitlochry, we continued, without very many photo stops, to St. Andrews.

St. Andrews is known for two things, golf, of course, and the university. Unlike Jim, we have no interest in golf, but the it has been fun to see another British university. Even moreso, we enjoyed seeing the city, the castle and to get a taste of the bloody history of the Scottish Reformation which seems to have started here. We spent most of Thursday there before taking the short drive to Edinburgh.

While we were with Jim and Jane, Jim complained about the rampant spread of gorse, but it is pretty stuff. But as we toured we came to see his point. It's everywhere, including all around Edinburgh.
Our first Scottish ruins (wait, there will be more). Honestly, neither Sharon nor I can identify this abbey, except that it is dedicated to some saint and is a Scottish Trust property.

This we can identify, Loch Lomond
From there we went into some spectacularly desolate highland moors

A cairn, with no identification in the middle of nowhere.

This is, I think, Loch Rannoch. Part of the problem is that we are tired and are probably moving too quickly, but also we have been wandering, letting fancy lead us and only when lost switching back on the SatNav.

Sharon wanted a picture of some highland ponies.

St. Andrews would not have been on our list, but the town turned out to be delightful, not for the golf, which we have no interest in, but for the university and the ruins(!) of the castle and cathedral.If this is to be believed, W. Malcolm carved his name in 1798. Students commonly did this.

Could not resist this street scene
The castle. St Andrews was the ancient centre of Scottish Catholicism and was the site of some of the bloodiest chapters of the Scottish Reformation

Your humble blogger
At one point, the castle came under seige, and the attackers dug mines to try to take it. Frantically the defenders dug countermines and here they met.

The abbey and cathedral

After the dissolution and destruction of the abbey, townspeople simply used the grounds for burials.

What is charming is the way that students use the walls of the ruined cathedral as outdoor carrels for study and lounging.
From St Andrews, on Thursday we made a relatively easy two hour drive to Edinburgh


Gilly said...

Gorse? The Scots have a gorse problem? Ha. It was introduced to New Zealand as a pretty hedge plant, and you should see it now. In fact, I can see it from my window, because the new railway embankment wasn't actively planted with anything so of course the gorse has claimed it... Word verification "allyingl". :-)

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