So I'm now in Paris! And furiously trying to make up ground with this blog! Apologies!
So after Dublin was Scotland. Scotland was grrrreeet (that was my best impression of a scottish accent).
Arriving in Edinburgh, the city had the same dark stone feel but sprinkled with blossoms as Dublin had. With the castle dominating the skyline and rambling cobble-stoned streets everywhere. After a night in my hostel, which was just around the corner from the castle, and near to the graveyard where Greyfriar's Bobby originated, I slept well after a pub dinner (I tried a Scottish specialty dessert that was described to me as oats, fresh berries, cream and vodka, which I thought would be like a crumble... no, actually it was a glass full of whipped cream ladden with alcohol, with a few berries and some oats sprinkled through it; welcome to Scottish food.)
The next morning bright and early I met up with my Haggis Adventures Highland Tour. 1- of us, about 6 Aussies, 2 German boys, a Spanish couple, 2 Americans, a Chinese girl and a Korean, and me and one other kiwi, Kristen from Christchurch, yay!
Oh, and two great guides, Debs and Martin, Martin told terrible jokes the entire time that still made us laugh :-)
So we headed off... the first day we visited the William Wallace monument near Stirling Castle, the site of one of William Wallace's greatest triumphs over the English. We then continued up north, stopping in to visit Hamish, a Highland "Heearrry Kooo" (hairy cow), who despite seeming to look like a bovine Cousin It, was pretty placid, most of the tourists headed for the gift shop;
We then headed through the Great Glen near Glencoe, which was made all the more dramatic with the hazy rain.
Me and two fellow Haggis adventurers, Kristen, the only other kiwi, and Sarah, from Perth, on the first day in the Highlands. The scenery was incredibly dramatic, but it was freezing and pouring, so I had to buy an umbrella....in tartan of course :-)
And to put the scale of the landscape into perspective....
Rugged scenery again...
We stayed the night at Fort Augustus, on the shores of Loch Ness. Because it was awful weather, we went to an indoor attraction which was an old Scottish guy that had built a replica peat house like the highlanders used to live in. It was fascinating; the room was about 6 metres by 10 metres, and would typically have fitted a family up to 13 people, plus their livestock would come in every night. Everyone had only 1 kilt each which they wore year round. As you can imagine, things got pretty dirty, but the highlanders were also very adverse to bathing... it just wasn't done. Instead, once a year, all the kilts were soaked in a massive barrel of urine to kill any bugs. Lovely huh? Suddenly Mel Gibson doesn't seem so appealing... The guy also showed us a traditional claymore (a bloody big sword) and relished in showing us exactly how the Scots used it on the English. He also showed us how a kilt is traditionally folded up, from carpet size to pleated skirt styles. Fascinating.
The next day we headed to the Isle of Skye, via the picturesque Eilean Doonan Castle, perched out on the water, which we got to ramble all over. Again, the stuff of movies, multiple films have been done here.
Me in front of Eileen Doonan Castle, looking absolutely freezing (cos it was)
Eilean Doonan Castle: Spectacular!
Then it was across the aptly named Skye Bridge to Skye, for breathtaking scenery. We only got to see such a small part of the island, it was a real teaser, I'm definitely going to hqve to go back. The whole place is windswept and rugged and fresh; hardly any foliage, just heather, craggy ranges, rivers and the bright yellow gorse.
A river on the Isle of Skye - we were told this story about a Scottish princess who dunked her head in the water for eternal beuaty and youth, so we all had to do the same... as you can see, it was pretty icy, but most refreshing! So far haven't seen any signs of eternal beauty on my part, but I live in hope... :-)
My afro obscuring the beautifully rugged Skye scenery
We passed SO many absolutely beautiful lochs, mountains and glens, I was forever oohing and aahing and taking multiple photos like the rest of the group... except for Kristen, who felt a lot of the scenery was very similar to the South Island. Having never been to the South Island (I know! Scandalous!) and not about to admit it, I instead resolved to make that my next trip.
Another beautiful loch
Me and Nerilie way up on a hillside they made us climb to see an, admittably pretty fabulous, view out over the island to the mainland.
Day 3 we headed back down the length of Loch Ness, stopping to peer down on the picturesque Castle Urquhart on the shores of Loch Ness
... and then again to perform some strange haka-like dance of Guide Martin's invention to supposedly summon Nessie. All the grey headed tourists at the gift shop opposite looked on bewildered as we strutted and chanted.
They like their tacky tourism here... yes, its a giant purple floating pontoon Nessie, it'd be interesting if this actually helps tourism...
But the atmosphere and the view were truly spectacular.
The eerie and beautiful Loch Ness
The beautiful Loch Ness again (albeit sideways... sorry, can't figure out how to turn it on this french computer) But look!!! There's the monster on the far right!!!! Just kidding :-)
Back to Edinburgh, and one more night in the hostel, before a fast morning looking around Edinburgh. Luckily I was able to meet up with my fellow Haggis mates that night for dinner, and then with Kristen again at Edinburgh Castle the next morning. Here's a few pics I took (or taken by Kristen) at the castle, which was very interesting, lots of cool tales and great little nooks and crannies to explore.
Anna investigating the cannon at Edinburgh Castle :-)
Overlooking the castle from the top. Sorry, hav lots more photos but they,re all vertical, you'll just have to see them all later.
And on my way back I saw this... Scottish puns :-)
The one thing that really bugged me about all of the castles in Scotland though was how someone would come in and conquer a castle, and then because they wanted to go on and keep conquering more land, but not leave a perfectly good castle for the enemy to come in behind them and use, they'd trash the castle! So heaps of the castles are either in ruins, or have had to be rebuilt multiple times. What a waste! Seems so pointless to me, but I ain't no warrior ;-)
Anyway, after getting completely sidetracked in a cool shop on the Royal Mile, I had to run for the train, but was then able to relax for 5hours while we chugged through the countryside to Oxford...