Friday, October 20, 2017

Doors of the United Kingdom

I always take pictures of doors wherever I travel, and this trip was not different.

These pictures were taken all through Wales, England and Scotland over the past month. 

Rain, Rain, Rain

Ready for the rain
It did not always rain
Typical . . Blue skies followed by rain clouds
Rain on the bus
Rain on the lens.
If you have been following my Blog during this trip to the UK, you might have noticed that it has rained quite a lot. In fact, I believe it rained every day. The interesting thing is that the rain did not really affect us negatively so much. While on the boat, when it rains, someone is going to get wet. If you are driving the boat, you are standing outside on the stern, and if you are the lock crew, you are walking alongside the canal in the rain. Everyone was prepared for this with full rain gear, so no one really minded the rain.

Once we were off the boat and touring Scotland, the rain was very cooperative. It still rained every single day, but somehow it seemed to work around our schedule. It poured rain in the morning while we were eating breakfast, but stopped by the time we were heading out. Or, the day started out sunny, clouded over and suddenly the clouds opened once we got back to the apartment. Or, we stopped at a pub for a pint, and while relaxing with a good Scottish beer, a downpour happened out on the street. It was occasionally 'damp', but we never actually got rained on.
Then on the last day in Paisley, we got wet.  We arrived early, and got settled in before going out for dinner. The girl at the desk had given us a couple of interesting sounding options for dinner, but when we set out it was raining. It was actually pouring, a steady heavy rain. After weighing the choices we had decided on an interesting pub a short walk into town.

In a strange new town, in the rain, in the dark, with rain jackets zipped to the neck and hoods up it was difficult to navigate, and we were getting wetter and wetter as we looked for the pub. Were we supposed to go past the Cathedral, behind the Cathedral, or beside the Cathedral?

Then, through the rain, across from the Cathedral appeared one of the restaurants the hotel clerk had suggested. Not the pub we were looking for, but a modern, quite fancy restaurant called the "Pendulum". Wet and a bit frustrated I agreed to forgo my "pub" preference, and give this place a try.
Best dining decision of the trip! This place had an "Early Evening Menu" of three courses for £13. We had an amazing meal, probably one of the best of the trip, all because the Scottish weather finally decided not to co-ordinate it's downpour with our outings.

The meal was worth it.

Thursday, October 19, 2017

Missed The Boat

The Falkirk Wheel
All the rest of narrowboat crew had previously done a tour in the Scottish Canals and experienced the Falkirk Wheel. Feeling left out of this adventure and touring the area anyway, we decided to visit and do the “Tourist thing” and take a boat tour of the wheel.

The Falkirk Wheel in a rotating counter-balanced wheel that lifts boats between the Union Canal and the Forth and Clyde Canal. It lifts (Or drops) the boats 29 meters from one canal to the other. This now allows boats to go easily between Glasgow and Edinburgh, and right across Scotland. Originally
The aqueduct to the wheel
this was accomplished by a series of staircase locks, but when the canals were neglected in the 60’s, a housing development was plunked onto the locks, so they could not be restored. Instead this engineering marvel was built to revitalize the canal system and the depressed economy of the Falkirk area. The wheel is very efficient, using the less than a few tea kettles of energy (A quote from the guide) and losing less that a mug of water. The old locks used millions of gallons water and lots of human energy.

Coming down again
Basically a boat enters a cradle at the top or bottom which is then sealed. The wheel revolves swinging the cradle and the boat (Or two if possible, or, we were told 13 canoes) around 29 meters to the opposite canal. Unfortunately they were unable to completely bridge the distance between the two canal systems so on either end you still have to work your way through a few old fashioned locks.

I'd rather be driving the boat
We took a tourist boat tour, which was excellent and gave all this information about the wheel that I can write about, but I missed my boat . . . . It would have been much better to do it in a narrowboat. I tried to tell the tour operator I was trained by Bill Towndrow, but that seemed to have little sway, and they would not let me drive the boat . . . I missed the boat . . .

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Unplanned "Power" Sidetrip

We had a choice today driving south from Inverness, either take the motorway through
Walking across the dam
Perth, or go through the mountains cross country. I was rested so I though I’d be fine on the secondary roads for another day, so we took the scenic route, “The Tourist Route” according to the signs.

We stopped at the town of Pitlochry for lunch and I saw a sign for a dam and dam visitor’s
The fish ladder
center. We had enough time on the parking so we wandered down to the dam. This was one of Hydro Scotland’s power generating plants and had been opened to the public as a tourist attraction. It is on a beautiful location, and the dam has created a lake behind it adding to the attraction.
Footpath across river

Although the actual hydro plant is not open to the public, you can walk across the dam and look down into the plant through windows, although you can’t actually see much. There are interpretive signs explaining everything however. Once across the dam, there is a long fish ladder to allow salmon to get up the river past the dam. They have built an observation area where you can look into the ladder to see the fish climbing up. Although we did not see any fish, there is a digital counter that keeps track of how many fish swim up and the how large
Back to town
they are. This season, 4,091 salmon have used the fish ladder.
Lunch time

Walking over the dam we saw a footbridge downstream which would lead us back into the town, so we walked down along the river and crossed the bridge to a trail through the woods back to the town where we stopped to eat lunch.

On this part of the trip we have the time to do things like this. We only had a drive of about three hours, so it was nice to be able to see attractions like this which were not in our plans and fit them into the adventure.

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

The Highlands

You would think we had seen enough locks
Today we left Oban where we spent the past week and went north towards Inverness. This route took us along the coast for a while and then along a series of lochs, including Loch Ness.

As before, this was an “A” series road, meaning it was two lanes, but often I would come across “Lorries” (that’s Scottish for 18 wheels), on corners with barely a foot of space between him and me, and there were spots with the now familiar warning “Oncoming vehicles may be in the middle of the road”. It was however a beautiful drive through the Scottish highlands.

Driving along the Scottish Lochs, the most surprising feature is that they are generally completely undeveloped. There is nothing on them. There might be a small town along the way on the lakeshore, but mostly they are unspoiled beautiful lakes with trees and fields. Although after spending a month in the UK where it rained sometime every day, perhaps the Scots just do not see living near the water as a positive thing.

As you drive through the Highlands, you are constantly presented with place names from back home in Nova Scotia, especially Cape Breton, and realize that this is where they come from. These are the
Urquhart Castle & Loch Ness
“highlands” that inspired the name given to Nova Scotia communities by the Scottish immigrants who settled in Cape Breton.

We looked for Nessie, but did not see her. However we did stop at the Castle Urquhart for a visit. It was cold and wet and according to the plaques around the place, the nasty Clan MacDonald, did a pretty good job of destroying the castle a number of times, so there was not much shelter from the Scottish rain. It was an interesting visit, and the castle, although nothing but a ruin now was well presented and you got a good picture of what life here was like.

Our Hotel In Inverness
Inverness is as far north as we go, and tomorrow we head back down to Sterling and Falkirk, and then to Glasgow for the flight home.

Sunday, October 15, 2017

A Wee Dram

Oban Distillery
Oban is a small seaside town in Northwest Scotland. It is busy because it hosts the ferry terminal for many of the islands offshore. However, its reach extends all over the world, and even people back home in Canada may recognize the Oban name from one of it’s most famous exports, Oban 14 year single malt Scotch whiskey.

Although I am not a whiskey fan, it is a big part of the town, and was only three blocks from our apartment, so we booked a tour of the distillery.

The distillery still works out of the original stone building in the heart of Oban under the cliff
Lots to sample . . .
from McCaig’s Tower. When you walk into the visitor’s center however you are in a modern renovated room that although hip and stylish was a bit out of character for the old building it was in. This area housed a gift shop (With lots of whiskey for sale), a reception area for the tours and a tasting bar in case you just cannot wait for the tour to sample the product.

The Fermentation Tanks
Our tour guide was excellent and kept us not only informed but also entertained as she took us through the process of making whiskey. I learned some interesting things about whiskey. The Oban product is fermented in huge Larchwood tanks unlike most distilleries, which use stainless steel for this. The Whiskey is aged for at least 14 years in used American oak barrels that once stored bourbon. Their higher end product is further aged in French Sherry barrels or European oak. Although they still operate out of the original building, growth has forced them to store the barrels off site and some of the other process is done elsewhere as well. They only have four larchwood fermentation tanks and two copper stills, making them one of the smallest distilleries in Scotland, but they manage to produce 650,000 litres a year. That means that there is over 9 million litres of whiskey stored until it is sold. Apparently they produce a quality drink, and a friend back home claims Oban 14 is her whiskey of choice.
An enthusiastic tour guide

The tour was excellent, and although not a whiskey fan, I left with a new appreciation of the drink, and will probably bring a bottle home to have on hand when Scotch fans visit.

Friday, October 13, 2017

Brian, Your House Needs Work . . .

The dog-stone and Dunollie
Back in “New” Scotland (Nova Scotia), we have friends with the surname of MacDougall, so when we discovered that the ancestral home of the MacDougall Clan was just down the road, we figured we’d wander over, drop his name and have a visit. It sounded like pretty swanky digs, high on a hill overlooking the mouth of Oban Harbour.

The Dunollie Castle, House and grounds remains the ancestral home of the Clan MacDougall, but the house is now mostly a museum, and the castle a majestic ruin on the
The remaining tower
hill. The house contains some interesting historical artifacts, and allows you to see some of the rooms in the old house. In one room there is a most amazing collection of over 5000 wooden spoons from the collection of Hope MacDougall, and another area displays shoes and shoe makers tools.

The Castle ruins
A climb up to the castle reveals the “consolidation” of Dunollie Castle. This means that the castle is too far ruined to be restored, so it has been stabilized and the remaining structures have been made safe for people to visit and explore. There really is not much left, just one tower, part of another and a small section of wall. It is not surprising, since the history on a handout seem to indicate that the Clan MacDougall ended up on the wrong side of Scotland’s rulers on a number of occasions and lost all their ancestral lands at least twice.

Beautiful View
Walking down from the castle, you can wander through a beautiful willow garden where a local Girl Guide group had decorated a tree with painted wooden spoons, inspired perhaps by Hope MacDougall.

I was hoping to catch my friend Brian MacDougall at his ancestral home and thought I might share a wee dram with him, but mentioning his name did not even get me a reduced admission price, I had to play the “Senior” card to get a discount.
Some spoons for Mrs. MacDougall's collection

Thursday, October 12, 2017

A Suitable Reward for an Arduous Climb

The footpath up
For some reason, I tend to gravitate towards the highest hill in the towns I visit and want to climb to the top and enjoy the view. Perhaps it’s something to do with my name? Yesterday we climbed to McCaig’s Tower and enjoyed the view from there, but to me it looked like the hill on the other side of the town was higher. A look at the map revealed that at the top was something called a “Viewpoint”; sounded like a good hike to me.

The view was worth the climb
Unfortunately Scotland’s weather always provides surprises, and today it started off with showers but settled down to just cloud, so we set off wearing raincoats (A sure prevention for rain . .). The Information center provided excellent directions for a walk to the viewpoint on Pulpit Hill. Some of the way was on Oban’s narrow streets where you have to press yourself against the walls when cars go by, but most of the way was on steep footpaths comprised of leaf-slippery walkways or worn and uneven steps. Finally we reached the top and came out onto an open area bordered by a stone wall with seats and a marker pointing out every building or geographical feature surrounding us. We had excellent views not only over the town, but also the surrounding area, including the islands out to sea. After admiring the view and snapping a few pictures we walked down following the roadways; much easier on the aging knees, to see the many beautiful houses perched precariously on the steep hillsides.
So that is what that castle is called

Did I mention the old boats?
Once we made it down we headed to another Oban attraction, The Oban Chocolate Company, where we ordered two cups of their delicious hot chocolate and a sample of the amazing chocolates they manufacture; a suitable reward for our hard work exploring Oban heights I think.
A suitable reward . . . .

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Walking Around Oban

Oban Waterfront
You eating that fry?
Well, Scotland is full of surprises; a rainy day was forecast but we awoke to sunshine, so we set out after breakfast to explore the town of Oban.

First we wandered along the waterfront and out onto the piers. Oban is the terminal for ferries going to many of the islands offshore, and there is a steady stream of these ships large and small coming and going. Pretty slick to see the large ones come into the harbour, turn and slip into the berth sideways. We found a nice looking fresh fish shop where we plan to get fresh catch for dinner one day.  

Painting Oban's Crown
Selfie at McCaigs Tower
After a delicious fish & chip lunch we decided to climb up the hill to the McCaig’s Tower. High above our apartment this structure was a mysterious building that invited investigation. It looked from a distance like a miniature Roman coliseum. Climbing hundreds of stone steps and steep roads and pathways brought us to a circular wall with arched windows all the way around.  Reading a sign informed us that this structure served no other purpose but to provide work to unemployed stone masons by a wealthy resident, John Stuart McCaig of Oban. He originally intended it to include an art gallery and a monument as well as statues of him and his family, but none of these additions were finished. Now it is simply a magnificent crown to the town of Oban providing great views out over the harbour.
Oban Cottage

We then wandered back through town to locate groceries for today’s supper, and back to the apartment after a day wandering the town.

Oh, guess what, now that our haggis is in the oven, it’s raining again . . . . .

Welcome To Oban

Loch Lubnaig on the way to Oban
When Regis suggested we spend a week in Oban after the narrowboat adventure, I did some internet research on the town and then I found an author, Peter May who wrote mystery novels about the area. After reading one, I had my concerns. His descriptions of the area was quite simple; COLD and RAINY. This did not significantly deter Regis however as she was focusing on the “Quaint” and the “Picturesque” aspect of the town, and said it can’t really be that bad. As well, we had both friends and relatives who had visited and loved the town.

Getting up early to leave Edinburgh prior to rush-hour traffic got us out of the big city and on our way to Oban. The first half of the trip was on “M” series highways, the “M” standing for “Motorway” which refers to their “Interstate” level highways which are divided and multi-lane with according to the big M/B and BMW passing me, seemingly no speed limit. Then about half way there we had to switch to an “A” level road. Now “A” level might lead you to think this was a pretty good highway. After all it is the main road into Oban from Glasgow and Edinburgh. Ok, think of the narrowest windiest road in Canada or the US . . . . this road was narrower. There were signs warning me that “Oncoming Vehicles may be in the middle of the road”, and when the big 18 wheelers met on some corners one of them had to come to a complete stop inches from the stone walls to allow the other to squeeze by.

The view from the apartment
On the plus side, the weather was lovely, with a day finally with no “Scotch Mist” and lots of bright sunshine and pleasant temperatures. We stopped at a couple of the Scottish famous lochs to take pictures. All together it turned out to be a pleasant drive with amazing scenery.

Looking out to sea from the window
Arriving at Oban we were greeted by exactly what was advertised; a quaint seaside town on the western coast of Scotland. No parking issues here, I found a spot right across from the apartment against the seawall to unpack the luggage, and then moved the car to a free spot a couple of blocks away. The apartment was everything advertised, large, airy, and right on the waterfront with amazing views out across the harbour to the islands beyond.

Then it started to rain, a gentle drizzle as we went for supper groceries, increasing to a steady rain walking back, and then working up to a windy, violent downpour that obliterated the view of the off-shore islands by evening. Welcome to Oban.