Wednesday, November 7, 2018

A Brief Encounter of the Scotland Kind- Prescription for a Vacation Part 2

I ended the last blog with this sentence....."The last house at the end of Balmaqueen Road with sky and ocean at our fingertips."  So here we are!

Just a mile or two from our destination we are encountering some of the most awe inspiring vistas.......

But we certainly don't let that stop us. We are not sure what to expect because there were some hiccups in the arrangements for this place and it really did sound just a little too good to be true. Kate....the ever faithful GPS guide, is counting down the miles to our final destination. When she finally says we have arrived, we are just a little bit confused. There are a couple of houses right next to each other with a view of the ocean in the distance, not at all like the pictures on the website. Stopping in front of a house with a couple of cars in the driveway and a woman puttering around in the garden, Amanda and I get out to see if we had actually arrived. After a bit of friendly chatter, an offer of a cup of tea, and a bit of history surrounding the area she pointed us towards the distant water to a solitary white house sitting on the edge of the coast. that's more like it. Weaving and making a couple of wrong turns, we finally pull into the drive. Is this paradise? Could very well be!
Here we are. The house is open and waiting for our arrival. We all split up to do our own personal tours, Siafu and Amanda each pick out their own rooms upstairs and we gratefully accept the one downstairs.

Quickly unpacking the car and claiming our spaces, we go on to look over the rest of our adorable cottage.

And every room has a view like this......
 and this......
and this.......
As we watch the sun simmer on the horizon we decide to stay here all day tomorrow to absorb the peace and beauty.......and hike........and explore!
Have I mentioned that the weather has been absolutely beautiful. Scotland is experiencing an unusual drought and heat for us, the 70's and 80's are delightful and no rain is such a bonus!

Upon waking our first morning in The Isle of Skye in the white cottage at the end of Balmaqueen Road is just what the doctor ordered. All of us, as traveling companions, are comfortable with who we are together. We can do things together, or wander off on our own. It makes for a most idyllic time for us all. And so we do.... we wander

and gaze off into the vastness of the waters
 hike to the top of mountains and down again

 take pictures of plants, birds, and scenery,

  annoy the oyster catcher birds
  and meander through sheep invested pastures.

and finally breathe in the magnificence of the everlasting sunset.
A full and wonderful blog will be our Puffin trip, a visit to Fairy Glen, the spontaneous stop at Kilt Rock and one last day of exploring around our homey bungalow before heading to Ireland.

Thursday, August 9, 2018

Prescription for a Vacation - Part 1

Our daughter, Amanda, has been in parts of the UK and Ireland since January, and has persistently encouraged us to come visit...take a vacation....get away....escape from reality/responsibilities...take a break....just come and experience something new and beautiful. She comes by her tenacity honestly and finally convinced me that the world would not end if I wasn't there to take care of things, and that it would be the best thing we could do at this point of time in our lives. Clever guy that he is, Johnny was in from the get go. And our daughter, Siafu (Jessica), was all in for whatever!

Now...we will have been married 45 years this August and have probably taken only 4 or 5 vacations during that time. Mostly because we have made our home so pleasantly comfortable, it is hard to think about leaving....and for me it has been hard to think about spending money on an "experience" rather than something "practical".
But we did it! We really, really did it!
And now I'm going to blog about it....Kind of like home movies....OH BOY! It's really nice if someone takes the time to read a blog, but you are excused if you get this far. I will be posting some pretty phenomenal pictures of incredible places but I'm doing it mostly for myself (and Johnny, Amanda and Siafu) so we will never forget these three weeks of our lives.

There is no such thing as time when you are flying northeast over the ocean in the summer time. It kind of just stands still or moves backwards or something crazy like that. We left at 4:30 pm Tuesday and arrived in Iceland around 5:30 am on Wednesday (hung around for 2 1/2 hours), then flew to London at 8:00 am (hung around there for 3 hours) and finally arrived in Aberdeen, Scotland at 2:30 pm. It never got dark! It thought about it for a little while, hovered on the horizon and then changed its mind.

But they do have dogs in heaven, or at least over Canada.

Arriving in Aberdeen, Scotland, our very first adventure began. Johnny, who I hold in the highest esteem and will be eternally grateful to, assumed the responsibility of being the driver for the whole trip, on the wrong side of the car, on the wrong side of the road, on the narrowest, curvaceous roads, with weird signs and roundabouts and walls and buildings built right on the edges and trees and bushes that whacked you if you got to close and large vehicles that meet you head on and wait for you to back up until you find a spot to pull over. And sheep! And three other passengers that kept yelling, "Watch out! Turn! Stop!" And "Look at that view! No! Don't look!"

So the first thing to do upon arriving in Aberdeen is to pick up an alien car. With fear and trepidation we accepted the keys, Kate the female GPS with a Scottish accent and the number for the space our vehicle was residing. We walked around to check for scratches, loaded our luggage in the back and then both of us headed for the wrong side to get in....Wait a minute! I am not driving! Siafu very cleverly got into the backseat. How a whole country can, with clear conscience, hand over the keys to a 2000 pound weapon of mass destruction to an American is beyond me. Johnny spent 10 minutes getting familiar with the instruments and trying to program the GPS for our destination. Finally, with the whole fear and trepidation coming into play again, he pulled out of the parking space and headed for the exit, which needed a code to put in to raise the gate....which must have been written on the scrap of paper with the vehicle space number that I threw somewhere in the back of the car with all the luggage. No problem! The office was right there and I could run in and get the code and we could be on our way. I heard honking as I was getting the information we needed, stuck my head out the door as our car.....with Johnny and Siafu.....and not me....headed out the exit with a whole string of cars behind them. I saw Johnny's arm sticking out the window waving a frenetic was nice knowing you.....hope you have a great vacation.....all by yourself! Of course, in a strange, unknown airport across the ocean in a different continent, there has to be a lot of construction and one way streets, with signs that make no sense to the uninitiated. I patiently plopped down on the side of the road, tried not to look like a tourist, wishing I at least had my passport (that was also in my backpack in the back of the car) so when I was arrested for vagrancy, it would make perfect sense.....I'm an American. The next day they finally found me...or maybe it was 30 minutes, or 20...

I am not going to recount the ride to our Airbnb from the is best left to be forgotten in the annals of time, and reinforces my deep and abiding love for my husband who endured our screams and his terror to safely deliver us there.

We all had a marvelous night of sleep, though every time I woke up the sun was still there. We decided to drive back into Aberdeen before heading towards Kirriemuir to meet up with Amanda. There was a vegan/vegetarian with gluten-free options restaurant there that would meet all the dietary needs of our group...which, believe me, is a real challenge. And....with some ingenuity, we were able to get some coins to put into the parking meter. And....found a second hand store right by our car that had hiking shoes for Siafu, because hers fell apart the night before.

With an abundance of roundabout occasions with us shouting out "right lane, left lane, first, no second exit", we finally made it to the highway.....ahhhhhhh!
We were all able to relax and enjoy the scenery as we headed into our destination route. We could not figure out how to contact Amanda after we left the wifi of the breakfast she was on her own, left guessing when we would arrive.

We were making really good time and anticipated arriving close to the time Amanda would arrive in Kirriemuir from where she was coming from, when we drove through the little town of Dinnet. And there, calling out to us travel weary sojourners was the Muir of Dinnet National Nature Reserve. We parked and got out to stretch our legs a bit....and then the "collective" thought was....we could hike just a little ways down the trail and get rejuvenated for the next leg of the drive. The weather was gorgeous and we could hear nature calling our names! About 15 minutes into the hike, we met up with a Scotsman who had a nephew or niece living in Fort Worth. After an interesting and lengthy chat full of historical references, we were told there was an ancient Celtic stone about an hour or two down the trail....which would make it about a two or four hour round trip. Well.......why not!

It was indeed a lovely time and we finally arrived at the stone, which was a Pictish symbol stone thought to date back to the ninth century...took our pictures and headed back. Believe it or not, there was not a cloud in the sky and the temperature was in the 80's.

 On the way back.....poor Siafu found out the discounted pair of shoes was not such a good fit after all. She walked part of the way back barefooted through her first Highland hike! We now had a new find some good hiking boots for the rest of the trip.

Rejuvenated and restored, back on the road to Kirriemuir we go. Arriving several hours later than anticipated, we followed Kate, our GPS voice to the downtown district of Kirriemuir. This just couldn't be right. Where in the world is Amanda, how do we get in touch with her, and where is our Airbnb for the night. We pull over to reprogram our directions, when there is a knock on the car window.....Voila! There she is. We arrived! Cute place upstairs over the street level businesses. She was just as glad to see us as we were to see her! Hugs all around, unpacking of bags and the challenge of finding free parking for the night.
Kirriemuir is the birthplace of J.M. Barrie, the author and creator of Peter Pan. Once we settled in, we went for a walk around town to see his birthplace and home and then up to the top of town to the cemetery where he is buried. On the way back, we decided to stop in and buy some groceries for the next leg of the trip and some wine, to wind down for the evening. We encountered a very friendly policeman in the parking lot and asked him about parking. He laughed and said he was not from there and was only there to help with the investigation of a murder. It had the whole town in shock because nothing like that had ever happened in their lovely little town. He told us all about his trip to Texas, visiting Dallas and Houston, and what a great time he had and how much he liked it. What a refreshing encounter and fun visit it was!
Our place overlooked the town street in front and the church and graveyard in the back. It was comfortable and charming and another good night sleep was had by all.

Before we headed out the next morning for The Isle of Skye, Siafu found a shoe store with waterproof hiking boots and then was able to go meet her Penguin buddy and catch up on all the latest fashion news.
With some very fine maneuvering and a couple of wrong turns, we all left Kirriemuir and headed towards Isle of Skye with a few planned stops on the way. First was Edradour Distillery hidden in the heart of Perthshire, "world renowned as the smallest traditional distillery in Scotland and arguably the most unique. Dating back to 1825, Edradour, stands alone as the last stronghold of handmade single malt whisky from a farm distillery still in production today."
Our stop was short and sweet, with no whisky tasting or tour, but a couple of small purchases for a friend. 

Next stop was in Blair Atholl, Pitlochry to visit the
House of Bruar and Clan Donnachaidh Museum
This is the clan that Johnny on his mother's side, the Duncans, is a part of.

One quick pull over to see the Laggan Dam and stretch our legs again.....

Our final stop before arriving at our next Airbnb is the iconic Eilean Donan Castle. This lovely castle, built in 1220 (and rebuilt in the early 1900s), holds the title of the most photographed castle in Scotland. We drove in a little after 5:00, so everything was closed but we were able to walk all around the outside and take lots of pictures.

At last.......we arrive at the most surprising place of all. It far exceeded our expectations and we were set to spend 7 nights here. Oh Hurray Hurrah!!!!!!

The last house at the end of Balmaqueen Road with sky and ocean at our fingertips. I'll share more about this amazing place and the Isle of Skye in Part 2