Rowling’s Edinburgh

elephant house edinburghMonday morning was a little sad for me. Tour over. Friends had travelled back to London. I didn’t let that stop me from trying to see as much of central Edinburgh as I could before heading to the airport at noon.

I strolled around the corner to The Elephant House, a quaint inner city cafe that earned notoriety as the birthplace of Harry Potter. I order a peppermint tea and a plate of pancakes to enjoy while thinking about J.K. writing that illustrious series. Wondering if I could discipline myself to write more than a blog now and then. There was a young woman writing in the window at one point; perhaps hoping lightening will strike twice on the same forehead? I left with perhaps the only, and most amazing, bathroom selfie I shall ever take. Aside from the banner out front, having a ‘very important bathroom’ is the only other way the cafe acknowledges its wizarding roots.

elephant house edinburghA few doors down the road from the cafe is the graveyard where J.K. Rowling found inspiration for some of her famous characters. Most notably, Tom Riddle – Voldemort). Greyfriars Kirk would be creepy in winter if it were not right next to a wonderfully noisy school.

The path down to the Riddle grave is well trodden. Grass has no chance here. Quite a few pilgrims made their way here while I was in the graveyard. They’d arrive, take a picture and leave. I watched this recipe for about fifteen minutes before heading on.

greyfriars kirk tom riddle grave harry potterI walked back up towards the Royal Mile with a mind to stroll down one side and back up the other when I came across a couple of eagle owls! This one, I was told, is only 10 months old! The beautiful birds were attracting a lot of attention from passers-by.

owl edinburghWhen I reached the bottom of the Royal Mile (the Holyroodhouse end) I decided to have a go at view hunting up Arthur’s Seat. I only got half way up before running out of time (and energy) and turned back for the aircoach. Sad to leave Edinburgh and holidays behind me – until I leave for Morocco in April.edinburgh

No official tours were scheduled for the day I was in town. In case you’re left in the lurch as well, I’ve made a wee map of the stroll I did. Left at 9.30 am from the hostel and reached my bus stop at about 1.30 pm.
Harry Potter Walking Tour


Freedom! Leaving the Scottish Highlands

To use a cliche, all good things must come to an end. The last day of our Isle of Skye tour was the long slog back to Edinburgh (and to poor weather). We drove back passed Eilean Donan Castle; partly to get a morning light perspective, mostly because we had to use that road to get out of the highlands. It was one big scenic drive all over again (which was awesome) and we had many a great, sunny photo stop. Once again, the sunglasses make for a deceptive shot where you have no inkling of the cold!

Glen Coe is listed as the main stop of the itinerary for Day 3 of Macbackpacker’s 3-Day Isle of Skye tour, but we only stopped their briefly to look over the mountains from a viewing platform (no time for hikes today!). However, we did get to spend a lot of time in the Lochaber area because every view is an amazing view. We needed to stop every 15 minutes for a photo.

Perhaps my favourite stop of the day was the Commando Memorial which has a great view over Ben Nevis, the highest peak in the British Isles, and the wild area where British WW2 commandos did their training. It’s a very solemn place with the three bronze figures looking off towards that highest of mountains. The garden of remembrance is home to the ashes of local soldiers; including some from ongoing struggles.

All feeling a bit more sober, we made our way out of the highlands. Upon reaching the lowlands the skies immediately clouded over. I decided to immediately fall asleep and woke up as we were driving through the town of Callendar. The stop here was very important for it’s Monty Python reference: Doune Castle. My favourite train spotter, Michael Palin, found the site when scouting locations for the famous film Monty Python & The Holy Grail. Naturally we all started threatening to “fart [in each other’s] general direction” and insulted our parents by insisting they smelled like elderberries etc etc etc… It was great.

Doune Castle is maintained by the Historic Scotland.

douen castleOur final visit of the trip was to the Wallace Monument in Stirling. My understanding of Scottish history was garnered through the first campaign of Age of Empires II, which I think is mildly more historically correct than that film with that actor and those out of place kilts and painted faces (that one). The monument was built during the Victorian age. Rather more impressive than the monument itself if the fact it represents a revival of Scottish culture and national identity. Although not independent, Scots were now able to venerate their heroes without fear of being branded ‘rebels’ – even those heroes who fought the English!

Wallace monument

And so ended our tour. We were dropped back at the Castle Rock Hostel where we began on Friday. Brigette and I checked in to our Sid Vicious themed room, where we promptly asked to move as it was full of black mould, ending up in the Moulin Rogue themed suite (romatical). Although many of the group parted ways here, those of us truly committed ended up at the Royal Mile Pub to lament over the end of the tour.

royal mile

Isle of Skye: Scottish Scenic Drive Scrapbook

isle of skyeI always end up with more photos than I have blog space to share! But I want to post them all, so you will want to get up and go to these awesome places right now! Immediate like! So here we are again with yet more photos of the gorgeous Isle of Skye.

The Isle of Skye is pure isolation. A photographer’s dream. We saw many a local photographer wrapped up and settling in for a long, sunny day capturing landscapes. We were comparatively rushed as we tried to experience as many views as possible around the island. Either side of our faerie hunts we made regular short stops for photos. Abandoning the warmth of the coach to sit about on rocks and road sides as the guide told us the history significance of each location.

Glamaig, for example, we learned has an annual hill race. It’s a fierce competition of daring as competitors attempt to completely ascend and descend the mountain in record time (current men’s record is under 44 minutes). The daring comes into it because Glamaig is mostly covered in scree (broken rock fragments) which become projectiles as they are kicked up by racers. The descent is considered to be one of the most dangerous hill racing legs in Scotland! For some reason I don’t have a photo of the cone itself, but the first two photos below were taken at the base of the mountain.

isle of skye isle of skyeIMG_0771isle of skyeisle of skyeisle of skyeFor all the time we spent on the bus, we definitely had our share of hiking and exercise. Definitely deserved our warm soup lunches. Brigette tried the white pudding burger, which is a bit more daring than me. I never even got into the Haggis. I’m not that sort of traveller!

We made maximum use of the superb weather. Our guide seemed to realise that photo opportunities got us the most excited out of anything and he stopped along a deserted road with a fabulously purple sky. It was bone chillingly cold, but totally worth it! When we got back to Loch Buie Guest House, where we were staying, we all rugged up (Brigette and Claire with bottles of red wine, me with a sparkling grape juice) and made vegetarian Dal for half of the tour group. A bittersweet final night on tour!

isle of skye

Faerie Hunting: Scotland Style

faerie glenSaturday morning started the hump day of our tour; but it was the best day yet. We’d conquered the bus-sickness of day one and were yet to face the long drive back to Edinburgh of day three. Not only that, we’d been promised a full day of faerie hunting across the Isle of Skye.

We reached the Faerie Pools at Glen Brittle around mid-morning. The guide did a superb 15 million point turn in the coach to park up in the visitor car park. As soon as were were off the bus and into the wind, all 13 of us began the walk up the valley. We spent about an hour and a half wandering alongside the river Brittle and admiring the crystalline pools. The sun sneaking over the Black Cuillins added to the atmosphere. Myself and another couple of the Trip Photographers took quite a while to get to the top of the pools. Couldn’t help stopping for photos.

In Scotland, rather like Ireland, faerie stories were used to explain people disappearing. Tiernan says that if you fall asleep under a faerie tree, the faeries will take you away. Our guide told us a lot of similar stories during our faerie hunting day. Once we’d reached the end of our outward journey up the faerie pools walk, the guide stopped us to tell a local tale about a local clan chieftain whose baby son was stolen by the faeries and taken back to their world (I’m in two minds about typing it out – all the guide’s stories were really long!). Places like the faerie pools represent the points in the world when the faerie world meets ours.  When you see those bright greens and blues, the purple of the heather, and the way the sun streams over the mountains, you can understand why they Scots consider these places to be magical.

We made a few other stops during the day (saving them for tomorrow) but we bookended the second day with another great Faerie-themed stop. The Faerie Glen near Uig is a really beautiful, strange and wonderful place. There was at least one other bus load of tourists at the glen when we arrived, but it didn’t distract from the feel of the place. A certain ‘heebee-geebees’ feeling as our travel companion, Claire, put it. Nevertheless it was a beautiful stop for the sunset.

Everyone on tour seemed to get a little silly here. It must have been the feel of the place. Brigette started ‘Sun Yoga’ and soon a small knot of girls had joined it. We well exceeded our allotted time here, and it was well worth it even if we did threaten the driver’s tachograph card. It was all under control, however, and we got the driver back to Kyleakin in plenty of time, with music blearing out of the speakers above our heads and several people dancing in the bus aisle.


A Brief Search for Nessy


After finishing our whiskey’s (well, everyone bar me who didn’t have one), we set off for the main stop of Day One: Loch Ness! Don’t let the sunny pictures fool you, it was really cold out. The sun bearing down on the bus had a greenhouse effect and with the heater blasting too, we were soon feeling very bus-sick! Passing in and our of consciousness, the driver gave us the above photo stop to bring us back to our senses.

Heating now off, we took off again for Loch Ness! A 45 minute stop to walk up to the water, take pictures of each other, and walk back meant we didn’t have much time to look for Nessy. The Fort Augustus end of the 23 mile loch was quite sheltered from the wind, so we were stripping off the jackets. Only a couple of girls were confident enough to take off their shoes and socks for a dip into the black water, however! We grabbed ice-creams on the way back to the bus feeling very summery. loch ness

The plan was to grind on for the Isle of Skye before the driver’s tachograph went over hours. Thus we drove on, listening to Scottish popular music and bag pipes (sometimes together) until we reached Eilean Donan Castle. Like many places in Scotland, this is a site with a long history that stretches back beyond fathomable time references for many on the tour. The earliest verifiable settlement here is medieval, or possibly Iron Age. At the entrance point to three different lochs, you can understand why lords of old would want to settle here. You’ll be sad to learn that the castle standing today is modern; being restored from a ruin between 1919 and 1932.

IMG_0688 DSC_0206After a short walk around the castle we chased the sunset west and finally got a glimpse of the mountains of Skye!

isle of skye sunset


A Highland Fling!

My Maid-of-Honour to be, Brigette, and I joined up with will a small group of friends to do a Paddywagon-esque tour of Scotland over the weekend. We opted to try out Macbackpackers, a small Scottish company running coach trips for young people. Brigette and I were both happy to find that although the oldest people on tour, we still count as young people 😛

Edinburgh castleUnder a grey sky, we started out ominously from Edinburgh on Friday the 13th. The weather report promised finer weather in the north and as we approached our first stop, the fort town of Dunkeld, the clouds were dissipating.

Decaffeination meant there was a hard start to the tour and the only reason the driver guide’s icebreaker “mock the tourists” jokes were tolerated was because he had promised a good coffee stop first. Dunkeld managed to serve this purpose for the coffee drinkers while I managed to get a good look at Dunkeld Cathedral. Construction on the cathedral began in the 13th century, but an early monastery dates back to the sixth or seventh centuries. The town itself is settled on a strategic, riverside location at one of the few good passes between the lowlands and highlands of Scotland.

dunkeld cathedral

dunkeldWith everyone suitably stocked up on snacks for lunch  (Brigette had no fewer than two takeaway cups of coffee – one for each hand), we set off again. The next big stop of the day was the Tomatin Distillery. Everyone was really looking forward to this stop because of the bathrooms! Our lunch had been taken on the edge of a beautiful lake surrounded by trees and full of cute little ducks. No bathrooms. A couple of the group ventured into the woods out of desperation. The rest of us waited for the land to turn black with moss – the sign of a distillery. After the relief, we had a whiskey tasting and a short chat about how Whiskey is made. It really was a whirl wind stop, but as I said, we were only looking interested so we could use their bathroom. Turns out none of the 13 on the bus seemed to rate whiskey as their big tour drawcard (how unusual!). My favourite find – a whiskey for Tiernan!

Then we hit the trail again for bus-sickness, amazing views and Loch Ness!