We started the New Year in Switzerland! It was a wonderful trip. Lots of beautiful scenery – really, that trip alone was the trip of a lifetime.
From there, it was back to Nazarene Theological College in Manchester. We enjoyed our year there; especially making many great friends at the college, where we lived and volunteered, and at Longsight Community Church of the Nazarene, where we worshipped.
In June we said farewell to our friends in the UK and returned to Houston for an entirely different sort of Adventure. After looking at serval houses we settled on one – but with a bit of concern about various projects that would need doing fairly soon.
The next day, a different listing became available. One look at this house and we felt it was “the one!” A bit of negotiating and we signed on the dotted line – after years of fulltime RVing and then a year in England we had a “stix and brix” place of our own.
As I said, “what a year it was!”
While we are happy with our new house we still have the itch to do some traveling. Our New Year will start with a Carribean cruise and there are a few other things on the horizon.
We know we are blessed in every way. Thanks for following along.
Since their creation about 10 years ago the Kelpies have become a major Falkirk, Scotland attraction. These works of art stand nearly 100 feet tall. “Kelpies” are a part of Scottish folk lore, mythical water spirits that often appear on land in the form of horses. An additional symbolism has to do with the horses that towed the canal boats throughout the region. In fact, a canal and locks are located right between the two giant horses allowing canal boaters to cruise right between these giants. However one wants to think about the Kelpies, they are impressive and well-worth a visit.
During the 18th and 19th centuries over 2000 miles of canals were dug across the UK. These canals were the “motorways” of that day, providing a relatively “fast” way to move goods. This “Golden Age of British Canals” ended as rail became king. The canals, with their many locks, were neglected and, sometimes, simply abandoned.
Then, an interesting thing happened: people began using the canals for recreation. Individuals bought, or constructed, so-called “narrow boats” and used them as a sort of RV to explore the countryside. The government took up the project of restoring the canals and lock system for the purpose of recreation. Travel by narrowboat is slow (about 4 mph) and takes the boater through picturesque rural landscapes and small villages. It is even possible to travel by canal to major cities across the UK.
That brings us to the Falkirk Wheel. Two different canals meet in Falkirk, which is about midway between Edinburgh and Glasgow. However, the topography in the area is quite hilly, meaning one canal is high above the other. At one time a series of 11 locks joined the two, but these locks were removed in the 1930’s. The Falkirk Wheel replaced all 11 locks in a marvelous feat of engineering. Really, it is a modern solution to an old problem!
Excursion boat rides are available, giving the rider an experience that can’t be had anywhere else in the world. We loved our ride on the Falkirk Wheel and recommend it to all.
Our tour from Inverness continued from Eilean Donan Castle across the bridge to the Isle of Skye. Skye is the largest of Scotland’s Inner Hebrides islands, around 50 miles north to south. It is known for its rugged landscapes and steep cliffs. Hikers and bikers love Skye and the bed and breakfasts are always booked well ahead of time. We just happened to tour on a day with perfect weather – something that, we’re told, is no way promised. We saw the Old Man of Storr, a famous rock formation. Supposedly, it looks like a man lying on his back looking to the stars. Neither one of us could quite spot that, but it is an impressive formation. Our lunch stop was in the largest town on the island, Portree. There were tourists everywhere and the restaurants were all full. We ended up with soup and bread at a local bakery, sharing an outside picnic table with some friendly Australians on holiday. Honesty, there is no way our photos can capture the vast landscapes of Skye.
We made Inverness, known as the “capital of the Highlands,” our hub for exploring Loch Ness, Eilean Donan Castle, and the Isle of Skye. This region is known for its breathtaking scenery with majestic mountains encircling the deep lakes. Loch Ness, a remarkably deep lake, has a dark blue hue and boasts the largest reserve of freshwater in the entire UK. The highway winds its way along the lake and one stunning view after another comes into sight. Sorry to say, the elusive Nessie, the legendary monster, was nowhere to be found, yet the amazing landscapes compensated for its absence.
Continuing westward from Loch Ness, we ascended through a mountain pass, pausing frequently to capture photos and take in the magnificent panoramas. Eilean Donan Castle, originally erected in the 1200s, served as a formidable defense against Viking invasions and later became a stronghold for the Mackenzie clan. Although the fortress was destroyed in the 1700s, it was painstakingly reconstructed after nearly two centuries, eventually becoming a national trust property. We toured the castle, getting a firsthand view of what life there would have been like.
Our tour continued to the Isle of Skye and I’ll write about it in my next post.
During the summer, different towns in Scotland host Highland Games, resembling county fairs with a wonderful Scottish flavor. We visited the Highland Games in Blackford, a small village, where we enjoyed bagpipe contests, Scottish dances, and athletic events like caber tossing. Several competitions were for younger participants, including foot races and track and field events. There were several bicycle races. Jackie explored the various crafts stalls. Naturally, kilts and bagpipes were abundant, adding to the festive atmosphere. We thoroughly enjoyed our Highland Games adventure.
Edinburgh, Scotland is a great tourist city. We spent four days there and could have spent another four days continuing our exploring. The main attractions are all fairly close together so it isn’t hard at all to see a variety of things in one day. However, it needs to be noted that there are some serious hills there. This takes its toll on even people who walk on a regular basis.
We enjoyed trying out some different food places while we were there. Check out our photos of “Oink;” this is a chain of fast food restaurants specializing in – well you can guess! We ate at a local Turkish bakery near the train station. We liked it enough that we returned to grab some takeaway there to carry on the train on our return trip. We also had some good fish and chips at a nicer restaurant on Victoria Street near Grassmarket Square – an area with plenty of places to eat and shop. It is also where many public hangings took place in Edinburgh’s history. Of course, we checked out a few coffee shops along the way. Jackie loved the Chocolate Cafe where she got a coffee that was more chocolate than coffee! And, of course, we tried out the most popular soft drink in Scotland. It’s an orange colored soda that tastes to me like a cross between Big Red and Cream Soda. It’s not bad, but I think I’ll stick to my Coke Zero.
It was fun just being on the streets, looking at the shops and seeing the architecture. One secret is to look up! There are many building features like statues and gargoyles that are easily missed from street level.
We already posted a couple of site specific entries, but, as I mentioned earlier, we could have spent another week and seen more without ever repeating an attraction. We missed some biggies like Holyrood Palace, the Royal Yacht Britannia, several museums, and the Botanical Gardens. And that doesn’t even take into account the many other places to visit across Scotland.
Here are some specifics for anyone planning a visit to Edinburgh. (Note: this is based on just one visit, so there are likely many alternative approaches that a person might want to take.} I priced motel rooms in the central city and found them to be uniformly high priced. Instead, we opted to stay out at the Airport Premier Inn. The key to that location is that the tram (light rail) stop is just outside the motel. By buying online I was able to get us multiday tram tickets. Trams run every few minutes and, after a 20 minute ride, we arrived right in the heart of the city. Along the way the tram stops at both major train stations and, it just so happens, right at the Hop-on-Hop-off bus hub. We bought multi day Hop-on-Hop off bus tickets. There are three different bus tours included on that ticket. After riding and listening to the tour information on the entire route of a couple of them we switched to using the busses as our way to get around the city. By the way, we learned that this particular bus service gives you a real 24/48, etc. hour ticket. If you activate the ticket at 11:00 on one day it is good till the same time the next day. That gave us just enough time for the last ride we needed to get back to the tram after we visited the Castle.
As you can see, we had a good time in Edinburgh and highly recommend it to everyone. Just know that you will need to do some walking and some of it up and down hills. And, when you go, be sure to try some Irn Bru and a pork sandwich at Oink!
St Guiles’ dates back to the 1200’s and has played a big role in the history of this historic city of Edinburgh, Scotland. Thousands visit this church daily, not so much to worship as to see the stunning architecture and learn some of its history. This church was ground zero for the Scottish Reformation and John Knox, considered the father of that movement, became pastor of the church in 1559. Thus began the Presbyterian church. Honestly, there’s tons of information on St Guiles’ on the internet so I’ll just leave you with a few photos.