Scotland Travel Journal, Part 7


Abbotsford was the home of Sir Walter Scott, the famous early 19th-century author. He’s never been one of my favorite writers, but I gained a new appreciation for him as a person once I visited his house.

Abbotsford, as seen from the garden
Abbotsford, as seen from the garden

The house is less than 200 years old, but Scott had it built to look deliberately medieval and the place has something of fairy-tale air about it as you approach through the walled garden. This is entirely his own creation; there was nothing but a farm house on the site when he bought the land. The great views of the house from the garden as well as from the lawn below along the River Tweed are planned to be impressive.
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Scotland Travel Journal, Part 6


After our foggy morning at Hadrian’s Wall and a brief stop for lunch, we spent the rest of that afternoon at Cragside.

Cragside House from the Rock Garden
Cragside House from the Rock Garden

Cragside was the home of Victorian inventor, Lord Armstrong. It was the first house in the UK to use hydroelectric power and also features other technologically advanced late 1800s equipment. For example, an hydraulic lift goes from the basement kitchen and storage rooms up four floors; I couldn’t help thinking of the poor servants back at Newhailes who had to carry everything up two flights just to serve dinner. In the basement are not only bathrooms with running water, but a small sauna.
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Scotland Travel Journal, Part 5

Hadrian’s Wall

Hadrian's Wall
Hadrian’s Wall
This was the day we visited one of the Roman forts along Hadrian’s Wall. It’s called Housesteads now, but was Vercovicium back when the Romans occupied it.

It was already a misty morning when we left the hotel, but instead of clearing up, it only became more foggy until you could barely see beyond the sides of the coach.

We stopped on the way in a village called Corbridge to pick up our guide for the morning, a local historian named Graham. As we drove along a Victorian military road actually built atop a section of Hadrian’s Wall, Graham gamely tried to point out the remains of Roman outposts–“over there, by that lone tree,” when we were barely able to see the tree looming out of the fog, never mind the stone ruins around it.
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Scotland Travel Journal, Part 4

We left the Norton House Hotel, although we would be returning at the end of our tour. Another relatively long drive this morning, a couple of hours, as we headed south through those border counties.

Going from Scotland to England is like crossing a state line; there’s a sign beside the road that says “Welcome to…” and there you are. As we were driving along, we speculated on how that would change if the separation vote won, and whether or not we’d have to show our passports in future.

It was at this point that we started to keep count of the Yes and No signs in the windows of shops and houses and in the fields we went past on the road.

Floors Castle

Floors Castle
Floors Castle

Our first stop was Floors Castle, just above the Scottish / English border along the Tweed River, which is famous for its trout fishing.

The name of the original house was the House of Floris, but the name changed when it was taken down to its foundations and rebuilt again by Robert Adam in the 1720s. The Dukes of Roxburghe and their families have lived here since that time.

We were told you might sometimes run into the present Duke or Duchess on the grounds (We didn’t). They are directly descended from those Ker(r) border lords of the Stuart era.

I enjoy visiting the houses that the old families still live in. Even if they don’t show you around personally, they make their presence felt so that you’re always aware that this is someone’s home. Photos of the children on vacations and at birthday parties sit on the tables in the rooms visitors walk through. A very nice modern-style portrait of the Duke hangs in the drawing room.
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Scotland Travel Journal, Part 3

I forgot to mention at the end of the previous day’s journal: when we returned to the hotel, we had a guest speaker before dinner, Anna Groundwater, a professor who is an expert on the history of the border counties during the time of James VI&I before and after the UK unification. I bought a copy of her book before the trip. She gave us a slide presentation about the major border families such as the Armstrongs, Bothwells, and Kers with one R or two, and the strongholds they lived in.

The next morning, we embarked on a longer drive, not south to the border counties but about an hour and a half northward to Scone Palace (pronounced “skoon”).

Along the way, we crossed the Firth of Forth on the motorway bridge that runs parallel to the famous railway bridge, which is not only a marvel of Victorian engineering, but looks really cool. The last time I was here, the bridge was swathed in mist and I couldn’t get a good picture. This time, I was determined to do the best I could through the windows of a moving vehicle.

Victorian Railway Bridge
The best photo I could manage of the Victorian Railway Bridge

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Scotland Travel Journal, Part 2


A chilly morning, and we drove through Edinburgh and out the other side to visit a home called Newhailes near the coast.


This house was only recently acquired by the National Trust. Like Strokestown on my Irish trip last spring, Newhailes was occupied by the last elderly members of the family who had owned it until around the end of the last century; in this case, the Lady is still alive, but she retired to a nursing home around 2000 and left the house to the care of the National Trust since she and her late husband had no heirs. The Trust has been working on a project to conserve and restore Newhailes since then.

A lot has been left untouched. There is crumbling plaster and peeling wallpaper. The iron rails on the front entrance stair are rusted and the wood decayed. But there are also some lovely antiques and family portraits going back to the early 1700s inside.

It looks like a large house, but it’s actually quite shallow–only one room deep from front to back. You can’t tell from the photo, but the windows on the ground floor left side are fake. Not because of the window tax, but because the library takes up that whole one wing and the walls inside are lined with shelves floor to ceiling. Most of the books are gone; one of the previous owners donated his collection to the library in Edinburgh and the Trust is trying to get it back.
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Scotland Travel Journal, Part 1

This is the tour I took: Noble Bastions in the Rugged North: Edinburgh & Northumberland.


The flight from Washington DC to London was overnight and uneventful. This was the first time I’d ever had to change planes at Heathrow, so I was nervous about making the connection to the Edinburgh flight. I needn’t have worried; I was at the gate in plenty of time and the flight was an hour late taking off. We didn’t get into Edinburgh until nearly noon.

Norton House Hotel
Norton House Hotel
As arranged, there was someone waiting for me with my name on a sign. She drove me to the hotel, which was only a couple of miles from the airport, in the country outside the city and surprisingly quiet. The Norton House Hotel, an old county house restored with a modern wing around the back and a pool/spa in another building a short walk across the walled private garden.

And there were cattle just across the road. I could see them from the balcony of my room.
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Irish Travel Journal, Day 9

This was the final day of the tour.

Blarney Castle

Me in the Blarney Castle Gardens
Me in the Blarney Castle Gardens

I didn’t kiss the Blarney Stone; since I was developing a cold, I didn’t think that would be a good idea either for me or for thousands of other tourists who might be kissing the stone that day.

As we drove there, I considered climbing up the tower anyway, until I learned that waiting in line up the stairs took 45 minutes to an hour, and we would be there just over 2 hours. So I spent my time in the gardens instead.

The gardens were very beautiful, and we had some sun that morning, although it would become overcast later in the day.

Once you cross the road from the parking area by the Blarney Woolen Mills shopping mall and enter the castle grounds, you approach the famous castle tower through a long path by a stream past decorative gardens. The tower can be glimpsed through the trees.

Eventually, you emerge at a wide green lawn and the remains of the old castle loom before you.
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Irish Travel Journal, Day 8

Dingle Peninsula

The stretch of beautiful weather finally came to an end. I suppose we were lucky to have had so many sunny days in a row during an Irish spring. This was the day it rained the most. Since this was meant to be an opportunity to look at gorgeous scenery, like our drive around the Ring of Kerry the day before, the purpose of our trip was somewhat obscured.

Inch Beach
Inch Beach

Our first stop was at Inch Beach, which is a long spit of sand that sticks out into Dingle Bay. We were there only briefly to have a look at it, but had no time to walk up and down the shore; I would’ve liked to, even in the rain.

One of the other ladies on the tour gathered up a handful of sand from the beach in a zip-lock bag to take home for her son.

We continued along the peninsula’s west coast until we reached the town of Dingle. This was meant to be just a mid-morning rest stop–the bus goes out around the end of the peninsula and returns to the town for a longer visit at lunch-time. But since it was raining so hard and they didn’t think they would be able to see much, about 10 or 12 people on the tour opted to stay in town and do some shopping.

I decided to stay on the bus, thinking that a drive in the rain would be more comfortable than walking around the streets through it with no umbrella.
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Irish Travel Journal, Day 7

The Ring of Kerry

The Ring of Kerry is the road that circles the Iveragh Peninsula, one of the peninsulas that extends from Ireland’s southern end into the Atlantic. On our first day in Killarney, we drove this circuit to take in the gorgeous scenery.

I’ve mentioned before that we had had beautiful, sunny days since Westport and this was another (sadly, the last). Doug said more than once that he’d never seen the view so clear at the Cliffs of Moher, nor at the Ring of Kerry.

A photo of the mountains taken from the bus.
The Mountains of Kerry

I took a lot of photos on this day, more than I could reasonably post. It’s hard to pick out some of the best.
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