Europe · UK and Ireland

Taking a Bath in Bath, England – Europe Travels August 2022

When putting together our trip, I found that we needed to visit one additional spot before going to London. I scrutinized my planning map. Where to go? Once again, I consulted my Rick Steves “Europe through the Back Door”. He gave Bath a solid three red triangles, meaning that it is a definite should-see destination.

In the travel chaos that was the summer of 2022, shortly before we left for Europe, Rick posted on Facebook about crowd management options. He suggested in his post that one should consider touring the less-visited cities that are less full of tourists. One of the examples he gave was Bath. “Instead of Bath, go to Bristol.” But Rick, you told me to go to Bath!

By now we were into late August, though, and the crowds in Bath were manageable. We knew what to do: see the places with the heaviest tourist traffic in the morning, avoid shopping areas in the afternoon, and have a plan for the day. We had come from several places that weren’t heavy tourist sites, so it was a little different, but we enjoyed so many aspects about our stay in Bath.

River Avon runs through the city of Bath, and we needed to walk alongside of it to get to the city center. There was a bridge over a canal that flowed into the river, and most every time a boat was making its way through the lock. A family with two kids was coming through one morning, and even the kids were helping to operate the manual locks.

Waiting to open the gates

The river is always beautiful, at any time of day.

But are there really baths in Bath? Yes! In Roman times, it was considered to be one of the great religious spas of its era and the town was actually called Aquae Sulis. There are three hot springs, and the one with the most water in it is special to the goddess Sulis Minerva. She was worshipped even before the Roman era. A stone inscription dates the complex to 76 AD. We visited the Roman baths with a main bath and ruins of the temple and other bath rooms, housed in a museum with artifacts.

Lest you get a sudden urge to jump into the pool, it is sealed with lead, so your bath wouldn’t be so good for your health. There would have been a roof over this pool in Roman times, but now algae grows because it is open to the sky. For the average Roman bathing here, the baths would have been the biggest building they ever entered in their lives.

Inside, we walked under modern-day Bath through ruins of various smaller baths, cobbled Roman streets, and Temple Sulis Minerva. If we were Roman, we as commoners would not have been able to enter the rooms of the temple. There are altars and a tomb with a skeleton still in it. Many objects such as jewelry and coins that people left behind in the baths are displayed. There is even a gym.

There would have been a full gilt bronze statue of Goddess Sulis Minerva in the temple. The head is all that remains and it was splendid to see. I didn’t get a picture of it, but found a postcard in the gift shop.

Also surviving is a large ornamental pediment, which would have been over the entranceway, with a fearsome head of a gorgon. As with many of the ruins and stones we saw, it would have been brightly painted. The Romans borrowed the gorgon from Greek mythology. It is thought to be was a symbol of Sulis Minerva.

We wandered around through the maze of rooms, all under the city of Bath. These rooms were at bath level.

Of course, the spring is still here, and today there are modern baths. We celebrated our anniversary while in Bath, and took a bath in Bath at Thermae Bath Spa. We carried our bathing suits in our luggage all over Europe just so we could use them this one time. It’s not something we would normally do so it was a great experience. The pools in the baths are not heated because the water comes out of the spring and into the pools at about 93 degrees Fahrenheit. It feels like pleasantly warm bath water. A few floors up, there is an outdoor pool. It was raining so it was very strange to be in the warm water at the same time as the rain, but we could look out over the city as we lounged about. We spent most of our time in the floor-level indoor pool where there was a nice whirlpool and a lot of interesting jets.

Credit: Thermae Bath Spa, Bath, England

After our bath, we had tea (lunch) at Sally Lunn’s. Dating to 1483, the restaurant is in Bath’s oldest house. Sally Lunn came to Bath in 1680 and began selling her delicious French buns, and the rest is history. A Sally Lunn bun is like a brioche. It is part bun, part cake, part bread. This really wasn’t a great place for the real “tea” experience, but our buns were delicious.

Sally Lunn’s buns

For tea, we were each served one bun. One half, cut into quarters, had smoked salmon on top. The other half was served with butter, jam and clotted cream. I was just about full after having just the one half with the salmon, but who can resist all the goodness on the sweet side?

In the basement, a view of the kitchen as it would have been long ago

The other unforgettable experience here was a tower tour of Bath Abbey. The Abbey was founded in the 8th century as a Benedictine monastery and, like Shrewsbury Abbey, lost the monastery during the reign of King Henry VIII. The church itself has gone through many cycles of ruin and repair since 1090, and was even bombed in World War II. She is standing proud over the city of Bath today.

It was 212 steps up to the top of the tower! Along the way, though, our guide had many things to show us. After climbing a little, we were on an outside balcony where the priest could address his congregants on special occasions. There was a long narrow walkway on the roof, some more climbing, and we were in the room where the bell ringers gather. There are ten bells, and each person needs to pull their rope at the proper time to produce the correct melody. I’d be tired from the hike to this room at least twice a week before even proceeding to ring my bell. And several of the ringers are elderly. It’s a matter of great pride to be a bell ringer.

We ducked into some narrow passageways for a look at the bells and the rafters of the cathedral. There was even a tiny peek-a-boo spot where we could look down into the cathedral below. The very top of the roof vaults are only four inches thick!

And then, we were behind the clock.

Finally, we were up at the top of the tower, and given a marvelous view over the city of Bath and the Roman baths below.

After the tour, we visited the inside of the cathedral. The very first king of England, King Edgar, was crowned at the monastery here in 973 and there is a large window with a depiction of the occasion. We looked at the beautiful fan shapes in the soaring ceiling, now more interesting since we had seen the attic. There were large flat gravestones (ledgerstones) on the Abbey floor, 891 of them in total. I don’t know if I walked on all of them. It took twelve years to repair the cathedral after World War II, but repairing the ledgerstones was a whole other project.

Cal needed some fortifications after all that time climbing around the cathedral, and we also took time to listen to the buskers on the street.

From our vantage point on top of the cathedral’s tower we had been able to see that there were three different places where the buskers performed, and they rotated around those places throughout the day. This woman was a classically trained opera singer who performed a lot of songs from musicals that I was familiar with, and we enjoyed an early lunch while sitting on a bench and listening to her.

This little piece of advertising on the cathedral plaza always caught my attention.

In a tucked-away corner of the canal leading to the river, we found this little swan family out for their evening swim.

The day we left Bath, Cal enjoyed an English breakfast. These large breakfasts had lost a bit of their excitement for me after having had haggis and blood sausage in Scotland, and all of them in the UK are similar, so he did the honors while I just had a poached egg and toast.

English breakfast: poached egg, tomatoes, tattie scone, sausage and ham on a large mushroom, and beans

My next Europe posting will cover our visit to Stonehenge and the Cotswolds. First, though, I’m coming back to the present — February is a big traveling month for us, and I already have much to report. My posts will return to the United States for a little while. We’ll be on one of those travels next week so it will be two weeks before I’ll post again. I just returned from a long weekend in New Orleans, so stay tuned for the details!

Next time – Mardi Gras in New Orleans

Europe · UK and Ireland

Higgledy Piggledy Streets in Shrewsbury, England – Europe Travels August 2022

Shrewsbury is likely not the kind of town you would know about if you are trying to decide where to go on a trip to England. And indeed, if you don’t have a lot of time, you probably wouldn’t put it on your list. Tourists are here, yes, but not in droves that we saw elsewhere.

The town lies in Shropshire, in the far west side of England, right next to the border with Wales. It is the setting for a detective series about a 12th century Welsh Benedictine monk who solved crimes in Shrewsbury. Ellis Peters wrote 22 books in the “Brother Cadfael” series. I read all of them, although I enjoyed the earliest books in the series most. A few years back, I looked up what it might be like to visit here, and dismissed it for some reason. Of course, things are not going to look as they did in Cadfael’s day.

But then, a Facebook blogger that I follow called “Florry the Lorry” visited Shrewsbury. The pictures she took of this town are gorgeous. I’m sure that when I commented about a possible future visit here, she replied about the medieval buildings and streets going all “higgledy piggledy”. I can’t find that thread now, but I was ready to go based on her pictures and remarks. Plus, it was right on our path through England.

We spent a lot of time in Shrewsbury just wandering about, admiring the crooked buildings, and peering into shop windows.

For centuries, Shrewsbury has been a designated “market town” which gives it the right to have a weekly market. It was held here, under the archway and the square:

In the 1960’s the need for a new market was evident. The town built a modern indoor market that retained none of the character of the original, but I’m sure the vendors enjoy being out of the weather. We walked through and I did a wee bit of shopping, as well as to have the requisite tea and cakes. I bought some much needed socks, a foldable tote bag, and – a steal – 3 vintage postcards for forty pence each. We had all the fruits and vegetables that we needed back in our apartment.

Charles Darwin was born in Shrewsbury. There is a statue of him in front of the building where he went to school as a boy. It is now the town library.

There are always so few statues of women that I feel that I should give Mary Webb her due. Her statue was near Charles Darwin’s.

The Shrewsbury places featured in the Brother Cadfael mysteries are Shrewsbury Abbey, the River Severn, and Shrewsbury castle. All of these places still exist…sort of.

The “Castle Foregate” and the “Abbey Foregate” are two place names often mentioned often in the books. It is simply the roads leading up to the gates of the castle and the abbey, and they are street names used today. It’s interesting to think about how old street names can be in a country that has been inhabited for so long.

We walked up the foregate to the castle.

The castle contains an armament museum. Looking down into the knights’ hall, I tried to imagine it as it might have looked in the 1100’s without all the displays.

Shrewsbury Abbey, the home of the fictional Brother Cadfael, still exists too. It was founded in 1083. However, King Henry VIII did away with all the monasteries in England and made himself head of the Church of England. The abbey was destroyed in the 1500’s. The church retained its name although there is no abbey and was no longer Catholic after that point. The Romanesque church that was erected in the 11th century still stands, although parts of it have been rebuilt over the years.

A side gate which would have led to the Abbey is all that is left of that:

Inside Shrewsbury Abbey church

One of the stained glass windows paid homage to the Benedectine monks. There are also two statues of the same man laying down, one which depicts the man with a sword and the other shows him wearing a religious robe of some sort. Perhaps this was an inspiration for the books?

The window and artifacts below honor the memory of St. Winifred, a 7th century Welsh saint. The acquisition of her relics surrounds the plot of the first Cadfael book, “A Morbid Taste for Bones”, and is the story which hooked me into the whole series.

The church organ was purchased in 1911. Installation was never totally completed and by the 2000’s it needed some restoration. The update was finished in 2021. There was a surprise treat in store for us: an organ recital by a professor at a nearby college. He performed excellently and now that the organ could be played to its fullest potential, he (literally) pulled out all the stops.

Especially after visiting the church, I was very impressed with all the research Ellis Peters had done with her books. She wove all of her stories in and around the actual places and historical events that were happening in that era.

We crossed the River Severn often in our forays around town.

We took a boat ride, too. Although unfortunately we chose a rainy morning to do it, the top of the boat was covered and the rain held off until we were almost done. A spot of tea felt great in the chilly weather! The boat captain helpfully gave us a little Shrewsbury tour as we rode.

From the river, we could see little vignettes of the town that we would not have seen otherwise:

Once off the boat, we visited Quarry Park. An old part of the park called the Dingle dates back to 1879 and contains sunken gardens and a pond. It was the city’s way of dealing with what had been a medieval stone quarry. Charles Darwin used to look for newts and salamanders in the pond. The rainy morning made all the flowers look especially bright. Of course, with the off-and-on rain, we had the place to ourselves.

One evening, we headed down the street and saw a footpath called “Pig Trough”. Now, who could resist this? I read somewhere that, in the middle ages, streets would be named after the main enterprises that went on there. Was Pig Trough where everyone kept their pigs? I’ll never know the answer to that, but it will go down as one of our best evening walks. We had no idea where the path was going to go but we followed it all around and eventually it came out farther down the road.

We were in Shrewsbury for a long weekend and that was enough time to see it in a leisurely fashion. I was so very glad that this town had been on our itinerary!

I have been traveling for the past few days. There will be a blog coming up about that and our life in Texas this winter. First, though, I will have one more blog about our Europe trip before I leave it again for a little while.

Next time – we visit Bath, England

Europe · UK and Ireland

A Literary Journey to Haworth, England – Europe Travels August 2022

Historic downtown Haworth, England

It was a day’s train ride from Inverness, Scotland to Haworth. Down we went, back through the Cairngorms with sheep grazing on the heather in bloom and mountainsides dripping their waterfalls. Back down past Edinburgh and into England. Past towns like Berwick-on-Tweed, walled and right on the ocean, where we seemed for awhile to be skimming right on the water. The train was running slow due to some flooding down the track. We were late coming into York, missed our connection to Leeds but found another train, and both the train to Leeds and the train to Keighley were packed. Finally, in Keighley, a cab took us to Haworth. It had been a seven hour journey, and Haworth looked pretty good after a long day!

Coming here was a pilgrimage for me. My favorite book since my high school years is “Jane Eyre” by Charlotte Bronte. I pull this book off my shelf and reread it every now and again, and I still find it entertaining. If you are not familiar with it, perhaps you have heard of “Wuthering Heights” by her sister, Emily. I always dreamed of walking on the Yorkshire moors as Charlotte and Emily described in their books. If reading isn’t your thing, hang in there, I’ve also included a hike on the moors and a ride on a steam train here!

Haworth (pronounced, as I learned, “Howorth”) was the home of the Bronte family. Patrick Bronte was the minister at Haworth beginning in 1820, and he and his wife Maria had six children. Maria, and the two oldest daughters, died young. That left Charlotte, Emily, Anne, and Branwell. Anne was also a novelist and poet, and Branwell was a failed poet and artist. The four siblings were extremely close and lived in the parsonage with their father. After their mother’s death, their aunt came to help raise the children. Whenever the siblings ventured out into the world, all came home to Haworth as soon as they could. A signboard in the house stated that “it was at home where their creative lives flourished; in each others’ company and close to the wild moorland landscape that was such a source of inspiration to them.”

The parsonage, pictured here, is now a Bronte museum and much of the home is still furnished as it was when they left it. I cannot begin to tell you how exciting it was to walk through those doors.

Here I am, next to a picture of Charlotte on the wall

This is the room, their dining room, where “Jane Eyre”, “Wuthering Heights”, and “Agnes Grey” (Anne’s book) were all written. In the evening, the siblings would be together, and the sisters would walk around the table discussing what they were writing. Cal knew how important this was for me, and made sure to get a picture of me standing here. And then, I just stood and looked a long time at everything.

After the dining room, there was the rest of the house and museum to see. The kitchen:

And the grandfather clock that Patrick would wind every night before going up to bed:

Branwell was a bit of a free spirit, as evidenced by his room. Their setup of it was very honest. Unfortunately, the Black Bull Pub in town was one of his favorite hangouts. You can see a corner of it in the top picture and we had lunch there in the afternoon.

The whole family’s history is interesting but it was Charlotte I had mostly come to see. Even though we live centuries apart we may have had some common interests. I’d love to have a spot of tea and a chat with her. She spent some time as a governess and wasn’t happy in her job. She wrote about it in a journal. Remembering my own working years, I could certainly relate!

As with most women in those days, Charlotte did needlework, as I do too. She made a Berlin wool work bag for her friend’s mother. The work bag was something fashionable to create in its day.

Here is the first American edition of “Jane Eyre”, published in 1848. It was an immediate success. Currer Bell was a pseudonym she used until her book was known and celebrated.

The church parsonage is located right next to the church cemetery. In the Bronte’s time there were no trees, and the stones stood straight and tall. It is thought that this cemetery was part of the cause of so much mortality in the village. The spring which provided the village drinking water flowed right underneath it.

The Bronte siblings’ story is a tragic one. Branwell, Emily and Anne died of tuberculosis. Branwell was the first at age thirty-one, and heavy drinking probably hastened his death. Emily and Anne died within a year of Branwell’s passing. I can’t imagine what it felt like for Charlotte to lose all of her siblings so young and so quickly. She lived a few more years and married, but died from complications of her first pregnancy. Patrick outlived all of his children.

The family is not buried in the graveyard but underneath the church. Anne was buried in Scarborough, where she died.

When we visited the church I was a little distracted by this piece of artwork, made entirely from toast! It was created by Adam Sheldon in 2010, who sadly died in early 2022 at the age of 45.

There were a lot of shops to explore in the quaint village. This part of Haworth is made for tourists with its restaurants and small inns.

The other highlight of this visit, and one of many on the entire trip to Europe, was a hike to the “Bronte Waterfall”. This walk took us out to the windswept moors. Every step was a delight.

The trickiest part was finding the correct path. First, there was a narrow walkway, probably a horse path in days of old, with tall stone fences on each side.

Then, up Penistone Hill and across the Haworth moors. There were open fields of blooming heather, land spread out wide, and farms receding into the distance. Pastures of sheep grazed between endless stone fences. I tried to imagine how this would have looked in the mid-1800’s. Although indistinct in the picture below, the lines in the hill are all stone fences.

Then: through a cattle gate and sheep running loose. Now we were on the gorgeous South Pennine moors.

After passing a wonderland of ferns, we came to a pretty little river. No waterfall in sight.

I was pretty sure we had the right spot, and it was time for lunch anyway. We sat on a rock to enjoy the delicious sandwiches that we had purchased in a meat shop near our AirBnb. Other people came and went, some local and some not, and the missing waterfall was a topic of discussion. Someone finally filled us in: it was simply not there. It had dried up ages ago.

The Bronte siblings would come here for picnics, too. They would sit on the “Bronte Chair” – a big rock – to tell each other stories. We didn’t find the rock either at first, but someone was helpfully sitting on it on our way out. The missing waterfall would have been right behind it. Today it is a waterfall of heather and fern.

Our hike had been seven miles long. It had been longer than we thought it would be, and Cal deserved a reward after putting up with all my Bronte excitement. We totally negated the positive effect of our long hike with this mid-afternoon treat! His is a cream-filled meringue with hot cocoa, and mine is an apple turnover with of course, tea and cream.

We stayed in Haworth for only three nights, but after making sure I saw all of the Bronte-related sights we had time on our hands. If we’d had a car, we certainly would have visited other sights like the Yorkshire Dales. Instead, we looked into the possibility of an old steam excursion train that runs to Keighley. Haworth used to be a mill town which produced worsted yarn and cloth, and the train opened in 1867 to transport coal, textiles and workers to the mills. We rode Keighley and Worth Valley Railway from Haworth to Keighley, one stop short of the whole five-mile line.

On the platform and waiting for the train!

Some folks use this historic steam train to hitch a ride to Keighley because rail regular service from Haworth no longer exists. I mentioned that we had taken a cab to Haworth; when we left, we took a bus. Keighley is a much bigger city than Haworth, but we found nothing of note to see there.

I didn’t initially get a picture of our train because we were busy getting on it. But there is also a historic diesel train which we took on our return to Haworth, and another steam train passed us on our way. We made a stop at a manual switching station and Cal saw that the conductors made a swap of something. He said it was a mail bag. Would they deliver the mail in this way? I’m not sure. Maybe it was the day’s receipts.

The steam train, and a manual switching station

At Damems, we came to England’s smallest train station. Only one train car fits on the platform.

I can’t leave Haworth without showing you a picture of our little Airbnb cottage, which was very old. Cal is standing at the door and he always had to duck to go through. People were shorter in the old days.

The stairs going up to the bedroom were very precarious. At the top there was a measurable gap before one left the stairs and entered the hallway. The cottage was totally renovated, but the stairway was left as it had been. The steps were stone and I could just imagine the generations of weary feet that had climbed those stairs and worn them out in the middle. I hung on to those rails for dear life every time I slowly crawled up and down! It was a sweet little place and I loved our stay here.

The bonus to our stay was a chippy – a fish and chip shop – that did a steady carryout business in the evenings just a few doors down. We had a delicious dinner al fresco on one of their picnic tables. It wasn’t far from the meat shop that sold us our picnic sandwiches, and we purchased the same sandwiches for our train ride south on the day we left.

We are following the Masterpiece Theatre series “All Creatures Great and Small” on PBS weekly. In the last episode, the housekeeper, Mrs. Hall, goes to a train station to meet her son. As she was sitting at the station waiting for him, the name of the station was shown in big letters: “KEIGHLEY”. I shot up, and exclaimed excitedly, “Keighley! That is where we were!” And right there is an aspect of travel I most love: the sudden connectedness to places you had not ever heard of previously, and are now quite familiar with, thousands of miles from home.

Next time – moving on to Shrewsbury, England

Europe · UK and Ireland

Castles and Whiskey in Scotland – Europe Travels August 2022

Before I ever came to Scotland, two of the things that came to mind when I thought of this country were its castles and its Scotch whiskey. In my prior blogs about our visit here, a sharp-eyed reader may have wondered why I hadn’t written about visiting castles. The ones we saw are all in this posting; later, we’ll have a taste of whiskey.

Castles are like Forrest Gump’s proverbial box of chocolates: you never know what you’re going to get. Some, like Dunrobin above, look pristine and like every vision you’ve ever had about castles. Others are in ruins. They can be medieval (think knights and coats of armor) or a glimpse at more recent royal life. The inside could be decorated like the occupants just left, it could be empty, or it could be a museum unrelated to the castle. Scotland’s castles were the first for this trip and we saw four of them.

Edinburgh Castle

Edinburgh Castle is a fortress which was built on volcanic rock. It was once the home of the Scottish monarchs, dating all the way back to Malcom III Canmore whose reign began in 1058. The castle was beseiged 23 times. The oldest surviving building in all of Edinburgh, St. Margaret’s Chapel, is inside the fortress and dates to the 12th century. The city of Edinburgh itself grew out of the castle, spilling down the hillside.

I had purchased tickets for the castle several days earlier but didn’t count on the weather: in typical Edinburgh fashion, it was cold, windy, and rain threatened. Still, it was a thrill to enter the gates of such a famous place.

From the ramparts of the fortress, we could look down on the city below. This is a view of “New Town” and Princes Street in the foreground with a view all the way out to the Firth of Forth.

Inside the castle buildings were the Royal Chambers where Mary Queen of Scots lived and the room where she gave birth to her son James in 1566. There was also the knights hall:

Inside one of the castle courtyards

My memory of Edinburgh castle will always be inextricably linked to the cream tea I had in a cafe just off the Royal Mile following the visit. I was cold and wet and I wanted soup. We visited Deacon Brodies Cafe but we were too early for soup. Instead, I had a Scottish cream tea for the first time. It consists of a pot of tea with cream and a scone with butter, jam and clotted cream. It was absolutely heavenly and I have had nothing better since. I needed nothing else to eat until evening. It was one of those happy surprises that come with traveling Europe. Cream tea instead of soup, who knew?

Loch Ness and Castle Urquhart

And now we come to the third thing people think of when they think of Scotland: Loch Ness.

When planning our trip, I suspected that Loch Ness was not going to be a destination for us. Other places more interesting called to me for the time that we had. This was later verified by Rick Steves, who is my travel guru. For the uninitiated, Rick Steves is the go-to person for all things Europe travel-related. He has guide books, tours, TV shows, and a large on-line presence. I also follow Cameron Hewitt, Rick’s associate. Both suggested giving Loch Ness a pass as its own destination. Rick suggested that if you are on a tour in the Highlands or simply driving from point A to point B, you will probably drive right by it. And then, you can tell everyone back home that you saw Loch Ness.

On our first tour from Inverness, our guide asked if anyone had not yet seen the lake. There were several of us, so she stopped on our way back to Inverness. We hiked down to the lakeshore, and this is it. No monsters in sight. But it is quite pretty, particularly the Highland bluffs on its northern side.

We did, however, see a monster on the way down to the lake:

Castle Urquhart is in ruins. It was built in the 13th century, but its fine location on the lake meant that it was raided several times. The final blow was dealt in 1692 from the British in order to prevent the Jacobite forces from using it, and it went into decay after that. It is now one of the most-visited castles in Scotland, probably because of its location on famous Loch Ness.

On our second Rabbie’s tour out to the Island of Skye, the guide made a quick stop for a look at Castle Urquhart. We were dealt a prettier day than our first visit here, and the lake sparkled. It was a lovely sight, and it was all we needed to see.

Eilean Donan Castle

We visited Eilean Donan right after the Castle Urquhart stop. In the Scottish Highlands, it is amazing how the weather can change in just a matter of 50 miles distance!

Like Urquhart, this castle was also laid to ruins as part of the Jacobite uprisings. It gets its name, Eilean, from the island it sits on. Donan is attributed to a 6th century Irish saint by the same name who came to Scotland and formed a community here. It was built as protection from the raiding Vikings and expanded over the years. The final blow was dealt by the British, though, in 1719, and it sat in ruins for 200 years. In 1911 a man by the name of Lt. Colonel John Macrae-Gilstrap bought the island and dedicated the next 20 years to reconstructing Eilean Donan.

Eilean Donan is one of the most picturesque and most photographed castles in all of Scotland. Every postcard rack I saw everywhere had beautiful images of this place, and many movies have been filmed here.

I’m not a great judge of time. On some of these tours, left to our own devices, we would arrive back at the mini-bus way too early with no one around. Other times, we would find just about everyone already seated and ready to go. At Eileen Donan, we were given an hour to explore. Our guide did not think it would be enough time to actually tour the inside, but we could either do that or purchase a ticket to walk around the outside of it. We couldn’t decide what to do, so we simply walked around shooting pictures, looking in vain for hot cocoa and then had too much time on our hands. It’s a small regret of mine that we didn’t at least buy the ticket to walk across the bridge and around the outside.

Dunrobin Castle

Flipping through my Scottish Facebook group one day, a picture of Dunrobin came up in my feed, and I was entranced. After a bit of Internet research, I found that we could go there on a two hour train ride north from Inverness. Going further up into the Highlands was a bonus. Better yet, the cost of the train ride was included in our Eurrail pass.

On the journey north, we saw herds of cows and sheep. It was funny to watch them run in panic away from the train. After all, it comes through at least twice a day! The white black-faced sheep dotted bright green pastures. The train also disturbed a little horned roe deer, which suddenly leaped out of the tall grasses. Two different flocks of swans graced a small winding river. A castle could be seen high on the cliffs in the distance. For awhile we rode along the sea where there were massive kelpy flats where the tide had gone out, with horses in a meadow on the shore.

The castle, pictured at the top of this blog, is the family seat of the Earl of Sutherland and Clan Sutherland and is still owned by them. The lands were acquired in 1211. The oldest surviving portion of the castle goes back to 1401, but most of what is presently seen was added in the early 1800’s. This castle has its own private rail station, which is where we arrived just like royalty of old. After a short walk through the woods, we were inside the castle.

As we entered the castle, we were greeted by pictures of ancestors and spoils from the hunt.

Dinner was set on the table and waiting for us.

The ladies’ sitting room was lovely. And oh, that library! This was only one wall; all four were covered. Can you imagine having so many books at your disposal?

In the nursery, a child would have every toy and book imaginable for playtime.

There were rooms upon rooms as we wound our way up and down stairs and down long passageways. At times, we could look out into the back garden.

We sat in on a falconry presentation. My impression is that it seems pretty difficult to use falcons to aid in hunting birds.

After watching the presentation and wandering through the gardens, we still had a great amount of time before the train returned. The castle sits on the North Sea, so we explored the shore.

The Sutherlands were loyal to the crown and so Dunrobin did not run any risk of being ruined by the British. It was stormed once by the Jacobites, but of course they did not have the armament necessary to do any damage.

On our train ride to and from Dunrobin, we passed a very large whiskey distillery. There are 141 operating distilleries in Scotland and a person could go on a whiskey tour to visit several in one go. Distilleries abound in Inverness, inviting us in for samples. We are not whiskey drinkers and so by the end of our stay we still hadn’t tasted a drop. How could we pass up this iconic taste of Scotland?

I found something that was a bit of a compromise for our very last night in Scotland: a whiskey tasting evening in a pub accompanied by Gaelic music and stories of Scotland. The owner of the pub played two-hundred-year-old songs on his violin and sang. The stories he told of Scotland’s past were sad. But Scotland’s future is bright: the country is promoting education in traditional instruments such as the bagpipes and violin. The old Gaelic language is being taught, and college is free for all. In 1998, Scotland finally received its own Parliament. A toast to that!

For those in the know regarding whiskey: we sampled Singleton of Glen Ord, Clynelish, Cu Bocan, Glenmorangie Quinta Ruban, and Tomatin.

Next time – South to Haworth, England

Europe · Life in General · UK and Ireland

Hallelujah! A Musical Christmas Card

A couple of weeks ago, I listened and watched the entire oratorio of Handel’s “Messiah” presented at the Washington Cathedral in Washington, D.C. It had been quite a while since I had heard the lesser-known pieces. If you don’t think you’ve ever heard of the “Messiah”, you have probably heard of one of the songs in it: the “Hallelujah Chorus”. The music took me back to Messiahs of other years.

During the middle of my time in high school, my father became the pastor of a small rural Lutheran church in northwestern Ohio. There, we lived at least ten miles from a town of any size. In the fall of my senior year and the fall following my graduation, he and I joined 150 other singers of the regionally famous Mennonite Choral Society in Berne, Indiana for practices and a performance of the Messiah just before Christmas. I don’t know how he found out about it or even if any auditions were required. I enjoyed singing some pieces from the Messiah at my previous high school the year before, so that could have been the catalyst. He had a beautiful tenor voice, and I sang soprano.

Once every week night, he and I headed out on dark and sometimes snowy or icy farm roads over the state line to Indiana to attend practices fifteen miles away. He was a taciturn man unless there were subjects to discuss that he was passionate about, so I don’t remember our conversations on the road – or even if there were any. I just remember the pride that I, and I’m sure he, felt about being part of such a wonderful performance. Knowing my dad, he probably was very happy that I did it with him.

The choir had performed the Messiah every year since 1893. Soloists were flown in from Chicago, which was Very Big Stuff to a small-town Ohio girl like me. A grand, beautiful pipe organ and small orchestra accompanied us.

The Messiah takes words from the Bible and tells the story of the nativity and its prophecy, as well as the crucifixion of Christ and victory over death. Even if you do not believe, the music itself is dramatic, heart-stopping, and absolutely beautiful. Both the oratorio and another piece, “Water Music Suite 1”, put Handel firmly in the list of my favorite composers. George Frederic Handel was originally German but he adopted London as his home. At age 56 he composed and had the very first Messiah performance not in London but in Dublin, Ireland on April 13, 1742. Not Christmas time? No, it was originally written as an Easter Oratorio.

How the Messiah came into being at all is an interesting story. The words had been compiled and edited by a man named Charles Jennens, who gave it to his friend Handel to put into music. The well-known story is that Handel completed it in 24 days without eating or sleeping much. After the composition of the Messiah, Handel was going through a difficult time. Overworked and laden with debt, he accepted an invitation from Lord Devonshire for a ten-month stay in Dublin. He brought with him the musical score he had worked on while living in London, and the rest is history.

While we were in Dublin this summer, I looked for signs that Handel was here, and I found them. Dubliners are still proud to have hosted the first performance, all these hundreds of years later.

Before it could ever happen, Handel needed an organ to work the oratorio through, and it is reputed that St. Michan’s Church of Dublin graciously let him use theirs. The church has a long and storied history, which you can Google if you’d like. St. Michan’s is now a bustling restaurant and bar called “The Church”, and we had dinner there in what was formerly the balcony. The keyboard to the organ sits in the little alcove below the pipes. In converting to a restaurant, renovations were thoughtfully and respectfully made to keep some of the original architecture and furnishings in place.

It was interesting to think what the former parishioners would have thought about food and alcohol being served in their church!

It is still the same organ Handel played. The restaurant would like to renovate the organ. If you have $100,000 to spare, you can help them out!

The inaugural Messiah was played at the then-new Musick Hall on Fishamble Street. The original entryway is all that remains; behind it is an apartment complex.

I also found a plaque nearby that commemorates the occasion.

A open-air Messiah is performed near these gates in the Temple Bar area every year on April 13. This past year it was presented by Our Lady’s Choral Society and the Dublin Handelian Orchestra. The streets are packed and people sing along with the music.

I came full circle with Handel when we later visited London and Westminster Abbey. He is buried there, and a life-size sculpture on the wall near his grave is a memorial to him.

A fitting tribute, indeed, to a great man.

There have been other Messiahs over the years since the two years in Berne, Indiana. A few years ago, I sang with the church choir that I was a member of for its Christmas Eve service. My oldest sang the soprano solos, and the torch was passed. Over the years, my voice dropped from soprano to alto, and now a frog has moved into my throat, so I no longer sing publicly. But no performance has ever been the same to me as those in the Mennonite Church long ago.

I looked up the choir on YouTube, and found a recording of the Hallelujah Chorus from the 2015 performance. It was years after mine, but all was exactly as I remembered. I have placed a link here for your enjoyment.

Here’s an interesting piece of trivia: why does the audience stand up when the Hallelujah chorus starts? The very first audience in the recital hall on Fishamble Street did not. Almost a year later, the Messiah performed in London, and King George II was in attendance. He stood up when the Hallelujah chorus began. It is believed that he was so moved that he stood to show his reverence. Although maybe he was just stretching his legs, who knows? Because the king stood, the audience had to stand too, and audiences have done that ever since.

It’s time for me to have some eggnog, a Christmas cookie, and another listen to the Hallelujah chorus. Merry Christmas! Happy Holidays! See you again in 2023.

Next time – a return to the RV’ing life in New Mexico

Europe · UK and Ireland

Circling Inverness, Scotland – Europe Travels 2022

Glen Affric, Scottish Highlands

In the months leading up to our trip, I joined a Facebook group for travelers to Scotland. People like me who are planning a trip here can ask all their questions and there is a ready supply of people who either live here or have traveled here to provide answers and suggestions. One lengthy discussion revolved around top sheets – or the lack thereof – on beds in Scotland because everyone in Europe uses only a duvet. The person was thinking about packing one, despite the fact that her trip was only ten days long. Another prospective traveler fretted about blow dryers (every single AirBnb we went to had one). A recurring theme was a concern about the availability of American drip coffee, which is not the way European coffee is made. You can try an “Americano”, which Cal did while we were here, but it’s not the same. He survived in fairly good humor for three months just fine without, in his opinion, a decent cup of coffee.

In between all the mundane stuff, I picked up some good sightseeing tips. The Dean walk that we had taken in Edinburgh was a suggestion from this group. Knowing nothing at first about what to see, I made a list of all the Highlands sites that sounded interesting. Cal and I decided fairly early on that we did not want to rent a car, but to take occasional day trips for sights that would be out of reach otherwise. A tour company name that kept popping up on the Facebook group was Rabbie’s, so I booked two day trips with them during our Inverness stay.

The first tour was called “Glen Affric, Culloden & Clava Cairns” which is exactly where we went. I had heard a little of Culloden before, and nothing of the other two. Culloden and the cairns were not far from Inverness so I thought it would be a great place to start. Both of these tours were in a small group and we rode in a mini-bus. Our driver was also our guide, and from the time we left Inverness she supplied us with a lot of information about what we were seeing.

Clava Cairns are burial tombs from the Bronze Age – about 4,000 years ago – in a circular shape. They are sacred to the people who built them and to the people who reused them some 1,000 years later. Some have an entranceway to a single burial chamber, as the one I am standing in does, and it would have been covered. Others are an unroofed ring with no access to the stones. There are four cairns here, and actually fifty of them in the Inverness area. This group is called the Balnuaran of Clava.

This signboard shows what a burial ceremony may have looked like here. It was interesting for me to compare the place to the tombs we had seen at Newgrange and Knowth in Ireland. This site was much smaller. Just like Newgrange, though, the sentinel standing stones light the passage on the winter solstice – but at sunset, not sunrise.

This is a cairn that did not have a passageway

Although it looks like just a weathered grey pile of rocks now, the builders chose stones in various hues for their cairns. There were reds, pinks, and whites, and it is thought that the various colors had a meaning.

We had some extra time, so we strolled down the road next to the cairns to look at the railway bridge that was off in the distance.

The Battlefield of Culloden was not far from the cairns. Our guide gathered us near the visitor’s center to give us some history, and then turned us loose to explore as we wished. Inside the visitors center were historic armaments and archaeological finds from the battle. An immersion theater with a 360-degree view very realistically puts you in the middle of the battlefield with the Jacobites coming on one side and the British on the other, while you stand in the middle. The story of this battle is fascinating, complicated, and very sad. It marks the last battle that was ever fought on Scottish soil.

On Culloden battlefield; the blue flag at far right marks the front line of the Jacobite Army. The picture is taken from the British Army’s side.

The Jacobites were supporters of the restoration of the Stuart line to the British throne under Prince Charles, and they were a political movement from 1688 until this day of battle. Nicknamed “Bonnie” for his youthfulness (he was 24 years old), Prince Charles’s court was in exile in France. Having won some skirmishes, he was master of Scotland and summoned troops for the uprising. The army was made up of French fighters as well as Irish and Scottish clansmen. William Augustus, duke of Cumberland, led the British soldiers on the other side. The battle occurred on the 16th of April, 1746.

Looking over the heather to the red flag marking the British side; the visitors center is left.

The battle was a rout. The Jacobites had numbered 5,500. By the time the battle was over, 1,500 Jacobites had been slain compared to only 100 of the British. The bonnie prince turned tail and eventually ended up in Rome. This memorial, built in 1881, remembers the Scottish lives lost.

The Battle of Culloden marked a turning point in the British treatment of the Scots people. For the next 150 years, they worked hard to break up the clans by banning traditional songs, the wearing of kilts, and the Gaelic language.

Several clansmen are memorialized with stones such as this, which reads: “Well of the Dead. Here the chief of the MacGillivrays fell.” The well is on the left.

As we strolled through the battlefield, I kept eyeing this picturesque little thatched cottage on the far side of it.

Leanach Cottage existed when the conflict occurred and was once part of a larger farmstead. Immediately afterward, it was used as a field hospital.

The little town of Beuly was also on our agenda for the day, and on the way to it we caught a glimpse of our first Highland cow. It wouldn’t come any closer than this for a picture, though.

Beauly was a lunch stop, but it also contained the ruins of a 12th century priory. What is a priory, you ask? I looked it up for you: it is a small monastery.

We had circled Inverness from Clava Cairns and Culloden on the east to Beauly on the west, and now it was time to head south to Glen Affric. We were on narrow roads, getting deeper into the Highland hills, and I was impressed that our guide could negotiate the traffic and also talk to us, all at the same time. Riding on the left side was still awfully confusing to this American and I was sure we were headed for a crash!

We stopped at River Affric, in Glen Affric, for a hike. There were a couple of trail options, and also an option to just sit. The group split up, and when we set off on our chosen trail we mostly had it to ourselves. The forest was hushed, the air damp. We walked through blooming heather, ferns and lush greenery, tall trees and hills, and the beautiful rushing river. A picture from our hike is at the top of this blog, and there are more below. I will leave you here for now to just enjoy them. We thoroughly enjoyed our day with Rabbie’s.

While hiking, I was struck by the vivid multi-hued green of the forest
Those trees…
Which would you choose?

Next time – out to the Island of Skye

Europe · UK and Ireland

North to Inverness – Scotland- Europe Travels August 2022

Inverness, Scotland

Have you ever traveled from Minneapolis to Duluth, Minnesota in the United States? It’s about a two-hour drive. Traveling north to Duluth, there is a feeling that you are entering another, separate world. Open Midwest farmlands disappear and you start to see birch trees. And then, you get a great view of Lake Superior, plunge down a massive hill on I-35, and the temperature drops. Down by Lake Superior, it can feel like you’ve stepped into a refrigerator. The distance from Edinburgh to Inverness, Scotland is a little further, the scenery completely different, but the perception is the same.

We began the first official day of our Euro Rail Pass by traveling from Edinburgh to Inverness. We had the same awareness of entering a different world as we left the city and suburbs surrounding Edinburgh behind. The villages were smaller and more spread apart. We entered the wild Cairngorms with its mountains swooping up from the valleys and the sheep grazing in the heather. There were dense forests and castles off in the distance. Stepping off the train, the cool and rainy weather let us know we were much further north. The weather felt the same as Duluth in August, although it of course did not look the same at all.

Inverness Castle was picturesque but closed for renovations when we were there

Inverness is only half the size of Duluth in terms of its population of almost 47,000 people. It is the Highland’s largest city and its cultural capital. Instead of Lake Superior, there is the River Ness, and inlets that empty into the North Sea.

The first priority is always to find our Airbnb, and we were delighted that what we needed to do was simply to follow the river. There were footpaths on either side. The question throughout our ten days here was: “which side of the river shall we walk on?” Every time we walked down these footpaths toward “home”, with the castle behind us, I felt so happy to be here. Imagine walking home on these paths every day of your life! You buy your groceries, run your errands, and maybe pick up some takeout on foot, and then just follow the beautiful river home. If you have a dog, what a perfect place to walk it. I guess I wouldn’t like being out much in the winter time, though, and I’m sure it comes early here.

Inverness Cathedral is on the left of this photo; it lies directly across the river from the castle

People in the UK walk the same way as they drive: on the left side. I took the picture below on a beautiful Saturday so there were more people out than usual.

If we walked on this side of the river, we had to take the footbridge over to our side, which was always an extra treat.

The bridge made a thundering sound and swayed slightly when other people besides us were on it. A thrill every time!

Our AirBnb was just a block from the river and was the last in a little row of townhouses with some pretty daisies growing out front. You can just barely see the outline of the door in this picture. Inside, we had a one bedroom apartment and every room was entirely separate, our largest stay in the entire trip. It was perfect for what was to be one of our longest stays.

These pictures are a collage of many that I took while we were in Inverness. In all of our days in the town, there was plenty of time to explore. Sometimes the sun shone, sometimes not.

This picture is of the old High Church of Inverness, built in the 18th century on the spot where in 565 AD a gentleman by the name of St. Columba preached to the native Pictish people and their leader, King Brude. It is the cradle of Christianity in the Highlands. We received a fine view of the River Ness from here.

Two churches, including High Church, seen from across the river.
Abertaff House, built in 1593

Most European cities that we visited had statues of one kind of animal created in many different ways for photo ops here and there on the city streets. In Inverness, it was the Highland Cow, affectionately known as a “Hairy Coo”. Besides this one, we would regularly see another covered in pennies when we were downriver near the footpath.

We saw the young man below standing in a cold drizzle. Michael is 15 and started playing the bagpipes at age 11. Probably more impressive, he was spending a Monday morning out on the street in his kilt. He played beautifully.

Like everywhere in the UK, Inverness had its share of pubs

On our first Saturday afternoon in Inverness, there was a full downpour. We whiled away the afternoon by listening to traditional Scottish music at a different pub from the one above, called Hootananny. They have music that goes on through the night on two floors at this popular pub, but this afternoon they were having a “ceilidh”, which simply is Scottish or Irish folk music and singing. We enjoyed listening to them. Are you thinking that “Hootananny” is an American word? It comes over as that way to me, but the word was brought over to Appalachia from the Scots. It has roughly the same meaning as ceilidh, but somewhere along the line the spelling changed to “hootenanny”. Whatever it’s called, we enjoyed the music and the company in the pub.

Venturing a bit further downriver past our AirBnb, there are some islands in the River Ness called, appropriately, Ness Islands. This was a relaxing walk on a Sunday afternoon. I admired the homes along the river pathway.

A walk over a little bridge took us to the first island. It is a beautiful, serene place even with all the other people out enjoying the day.

Cal always appreciates a restful park bench with a scenic view

From the islands, it isn’t far to Inverness Botanic Gardens. The gardens are small but I enjoyed seeing the hydrangeas and other flowers blooming.

We spent a greater portion of another day hiking the Caledonian Canal. It begins at Inverness and connects the east coast to the west coast. The canal was envisioned as a throughway and safe harbor for shipping during Napoleon’s reign. During its construction in the early 1800’s, there were cost overruns and construction issues. By the time it was completed, it was no longer usable; ships were being built that were too big to use it. Napoleon had been defeated and the threat was gone. Although never used for the commercial purposes that it was envisioned for, it became a tourist attraction. Trains were scheduled to connect with steamboat services, and even Queen Victoria took a ride in 1873. Today, narrow boating is popular; people can spend several days navigating the canal from end to end.

The canal is sixty miles long and contains twenty-eight locks. It follows the Great Glen, which is a beautiful narrow valley, and cuts through Lochs (Lakes) Oich, Lochy and Ness.

There was a small boat progressing through the locks. Cal was totally absorbed in this process, so we watched it for a quite a while. In the picture below, the lock operator is behind the white fence on the left, and one of the boat owners is walking beside her boat to tie and untie it at each lock.

While we watched the Skimble go through, we looked down at a bridge below this set of locks and wondered: what are they going to do with this bridge to let the boat pass? After a while we had the answer to this mystery: it is a swing bridge, which rolls to the side.

After the Fort Augustus Swing Bridge the canal opens up into a marina, where I photographed this cute little houseboat:

The canal starts (or ends, depending on your perspective) at Beuly Firth, an inlet which empties into the North Sea. We walked all the way to the end of the canal.

Looking out at Beauly Firth

From here we retraced our steps back, stopping by the swing bridge at a tiny cafe for lunch. I ordered a split pea soup with a cheese scone. Look at the size of this scone! It was as big as a small loaf of bread and the leftovers were enough for both Cal and I to share for lunch the next day. We were outside and able to look at the canal as we had our lunch.

We had walked much further than we had intended when we left the AirBnb: 7 miles. When we returned, it was time for a nap!

I have one more food shot for you: a Scottish breakfast which I had on our last morning in Inverness. Starting with the tomato on the top and moving clockwise, there is lorne (beef) sausage, black pudding, haggis, a tattie (potato) scone, mushrooms, and of course, egg on top and tea with cream on the side. I didn’t care too much for the black pudding. Honestly, although I enjoyed this breakfast and was glad I tried the haggis, Cal had ordered a delicious-looking plate of French toast, and I kept looking longingly over at his food..

Of course, there was more to see in our stay here than just the city of Inverness. In my next posts, I will take you out and about into the Highlands of Scotland.

Next time – the countryside around Inverness, including the Battlefield of Culloden

Europe · UK and Ireland

Stories of Edinburgh – Europe Travels August 2022

One thing I loved about Edinburgh was the stories I heard about, and the connections from one place that we visited to another. There were three in particular: that of the poet Robert Ferguson and his connection to Robert Burns, the story of Deacon Brodie and his connection to Robert Louis Stevenson, and also a little dog named Bobby.

We first met Robert Ferguson on the street. I thought his young energy really came through in this statue of him bustling down the Royal Mile, book in hand.

For two years, Ferguson wrote poems about his home city. One acclaimed poem was “Auld Reikie”, which observed a day in the life of such ordinary people as shopkeepers, children, whores and dandies, lawyers and schoolboys. But his life was short. He fell down some stairs, hit the back of his head and languished in a hospital. Conditions were not good there and he died at only 24 years of age in 1774. He was buried in an unmarked pauper’s grave. Although his body of work is short, he was already well known and respected when he passed.

All that I knew of Ferguson was from reading the stone about him under his statue. Seeing it prompted me to walk through Canongate Cemetery.

I ran into Robert Ferguson again when visiting the Writer’s Museum. Robert Burns, regarded as the national poet of Scotland and the writer of the song “Auld Lang Syne”, greatly respected Ferguson’s work. He was about nine years younger than Ferguson so was probably aware of him only through his poetry. One thing that he admired about Ferguson was that he had written not only in Scottish English, but also in the native Scots language, Gaelic. Upon hearing that Ferguson was in a pauper’s grave, he paid for a proper headstone to be erected for him fifteen years after Ferguson’s death.

Robert Burns himself was not all that old when he died at the age of 37 from rheumatic heart disease and a bacterial infection that followed. What additional contributions these men could have given the world if they had had the benefit of our modern medicine!

Deacon Brodie was another person whose name kept popping up. I can’t take credit for this excellent picture of him, though. By the time I connected who Deacon Brodie was, we had passed his landmarks.

Credit: David/Flickr

This statue of him stands right outside the tiny cafe that bears his name and which is believed to have been his workshop back in the mid-1700’s. We had popped in for something warm on a cold and rainy morning. His story is painted on the walls but I could only see the portion by our table, since the place was full and bustling. Outside again, I saw Deacon Brodie’s Tavern across the Royal Mile. Who was this guy?

By day, William Brodie was a cabinet-maker and city councilor, a well-respected man who came by the title of Deacon by virtue of his position in the trades guild. But the fine Deacon had his secrets: he was a drinker and heavy gambler. To cover his debts, he began breaking into houses and burglarizing them. As part of his work, he would also install and repair locks. Did you need a new lock for your front door? Better not let Deacon Brodie replace it. He would copy the keys of his customers using wax impressions, and use that key to gain entry at night. Eventually he was caught, tried for his crimes, and hanged. They didn’t mess around with breaking and entering in those days.

The sad part is that he really was an excellent cabinet maker, and there in the Writer’s Museum was one of his cabinets.

The cabinet is made of mahogany veneer, one of only two pieces existing that are known to have been made by the deacon

This lovely piece of furniture was in Robert Louis Stevenson’s bedroom as a child and captivated his imagination. (I wonder: as a child, was it he who pulled off some of the knobs?) Later, he wrote a play about Deacon Brodie. The paradox that was evident in Deacon Brodie’s life also inspired him to write the well-known novel, “The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde”. It was published in 1886, almost one hundred years after Brodie’s death.

The cutest story of all was that of Greyfriars Bobby, who lived from 1855 to 1872. He was a terrier and owned by a man named John Gray. When Bobby was only two, Gray died of tuberculosis and was buried in Greyfriars Cemetery. For fourteen years, Bobby would spend the rest of his life sitting on his master’s grave. He became the pet of the neighborhood. The owner of Greyfriars Pub would look out for him and feed him, and so did everyone else for that matter. The lord provost of Edinburgh paid for his license and gave him a collar, which can still be seen in the Museum of Edinburgh.

Soon after Bobby’s death, a woman by the name of Lady Burdett-Coutts commissioned a statue of Bobby to be erected, and he is forever remembered. A book was written about him, and there is even a Disney movie titled, of course, “Greyfriars Bobby”.

I spent some time in Edinburgh wandering around looking for Bobby’s statue whenever I thought of it. Looking for it led us into Greyfriars cemetery for an enjoyable post-dinner walk one evening. I read later that J.K. Rowling received inspiration for some of the names in this cemetery for the Harry Potter series: Potter, McGonagall, Riddell, and others. Many are located along Flodden Wall, which I did happen to take a picture of. I wasn’t looking for gravestones that evening.

Bobby is also immortalized at the entrance of the cemetery, which you can see in the top picture of this blog.

If you are in Edinburgh and find Bobby’s statue, please don’t rub his nose. It won’t really bring you good luck and the locals don’t like how the finish on his nose has worn down. They are still pretty proud of their little dog.

Next time – Moving on to the Scottish Highlands

Europe · UK and Ireland

A Visit to Edinburgh, Scotland – Europe Travels August 2022

Victoria Street, Edinburgh

Flying from Dublin to Edinburgh was a little bit of an adventure. After we passed security, it seemed like we walked for miles and miles and then descended down to the bowels of the airport. We soon discovered the reason for this: we had to walk onto the tarmac to board our little airplane. It has been years since since we’ve gotten on an airplane any other way but a jet bridge. Although we traveled with carry on luggage, our suitcases were too heavy, so we had to check them. I think that if you had nothing in your suitcase, it still would be too heavy to carry on Aer Lingus. Remember the summer of ’22, when airlines were losing suitcases everywhere? We watched with some relief as they put our suitcases on the airplane. This picture was taken from our shuttle bus window, so you may see some raindrops and window glare.

At first glance from our city bus window on the ride from the airport, I knew I was going to enjoy exploring Edinburgh. The city has many buildings that are over 500 years old. Still others date back to the 1800’s. Monuments and statues are sprinkled everywhere, and Edinburgh Castle looks down on the city from above. I couldn’t wait to get out and see it all.

Looking up at Edinburgh Castle from Victoria Street
“Old Town” of Edinburgh

In the background of the picture above, the tall grey buildings were tenement buildings when first built. The arched steeple peeking over everything on the back left is the cathedral of St. Giles, on the Royal Mile. We had a tiny studio apartment in a very tall building that looked similar to the one in the front. There were three ways to get into it: from the front of the building off the street, from St. James Close at the top of the Royal Mile, and from Lady Stair’s Close.

Inside St. James Close

The Royal Mile starts at the bluff of Edinburgh Castle. It is the location of the ancient and medieval city of Edinburgh, and as the city grew, it stretched down along a sloping ridge. A close, by definition, is a Scot’s term for “alleyway”, and quite a few lead to picturesque lanes, pretty courtyards, and little pubs or cafes as St James Close does in the picture above. There are many closes leading off the Royal Mile, and as we walked, we peeked into some of them.

Many of the closes had informational plaques. This is Anchor Close, named after Anchor Tavern which was formerly here. The close dates from 1521. Also noted: Smellie’s Printing House which printed Robert Burns’ works and the 1st edition of the Encyclopedia Britannica, and the parents of Sir Walter Scott resided here until 1771. Edinburgh is full of interesting history like that.

Some closes had beautiful entryways:

In 1861, a seven story tenement building in Paisley Close collapsed and 35 people were killed. It was a huge scandal at the time. One little boy, Joseph McIvor, was heard under the debris: “Heave awa’ chaps, I’m no’ dead yet!” Now he looks over Paisley Close for the ages.

This water cistern dates to the late 1700’s. The city was having issues in that era delivering enough water to the populace. The water cisterns in the city were only turned on for three hours, starting at midnight, to limit demand. People who could afford it hired caddies to fetch their water so they wouldn’t have to get up in the middle of the night and stand in line!

The bagpiper was making beautiful music all day long
Canongate Tolbooth, which was outside the town walls in 1591.

Bookending the Royal Mile at the bottom is Holyrood Palace, the currrent residence of the British crown.

A quaint looking street, full of character, history and tourist shops that stretches for about a mile, gets more than its share of visitors. Early August is high tourist season; by late afternoon the streets were packed. Cal and I are early risers and had no problem being on the Royal Mile just when the shop owners were beginning to pull their postcard racks out onto the street. All across Europe, we reaped the benefits of being out early. I like uncovering the history of a place, and there’s no better time for that than being out before everyone else is.

A turn off the Royal Mile leads to Victoria Street, pictured at the top of this blog. This beautiful view was at the end of the street, right under the castle.

Gothic St. Giles Cathedral is the parish church of the Church of Scotland on the Royal Mile and was founded in the 12th century. The Scottish reformer John Knox is buried here. When Queen Elizabeth recently passed, her coffin was taken from her castle in Balmoral to Holyrood. From there it passed up the Royal Mile to St. Giles to lie in state for four days.

Above the entryway at St. Giles
John Knox

There is a chapel in St. Giles for the Scottish Order of the Thistle. It is the highest honor in Scotland and those recognized for contributing to public life become knights or ladies. In the chapel, the knights’ stalls for the honorees were based on those in Windsor Castle. Some of the animals appear in the knights’ coat of arms.

Also in St. Giles was an enormous plaque memorializing Robert Louis Stevenson. He was born and raised in Edinburgh, but is buried in Samoa. He was always in very poor health, which is probably why he is shown reclining under a blanket.

Which brings me to the Scottish Writer’s Museum. It is located in Lady Stair’s Close, right behind our apartment. After a couple of days in Edinburgh, I could no longer just walk by, and had to pay a visit to this extremely interesting museum.

Lady Stair, by the way, is not the name of the stairs going up to the close. Rather, it is the name of the fairytale-looking townhouse that was built in 1622 and now houses the museum. It was purchased about a hundred years later by Elizabeth Dundas, Lady Stair, the widow of the 1st Earl of Stair. It had been her grandparents’ house.

The Scottish Writer’s Museum, Lady Stair’s Close

A floor was dedicated to each of these three authors: Robert Burns, Sir Walter Scott, and Robert Louis Stevenson. A narrow curving stair took me to each level. I’d love to tell you details that I learned about each one, but that would take another blog page. Maybe you’ll just need to visit the museum yourself. It was interesting just to look inside at the architecture of Lady Stair’s house.

Edinburgh’s Royal Mile is considered to be part of “Old Town”. Needing to expand a growing city, New Town was built during the Georgian Era, the late 1700’s to the mid 1800’s.

A view of Edinburgh’s New Town from Edinburgh Castle

Sir Walter Scott’s monument, in New Town, was one of the first things to catch my eye on the day we arrived. It is the second largest monument built in the world honoring a writer. There is a larger-than-life-size statue of Scott inside which is dwarfed by the larger structure.

Why are so many of Edinburgh’s buildings and monuments dark-looking? This goes back to the days when buildings were heated and lighted by fire, and the smoke from coal and peat fires hung over the city. The smoke permeated everything, and gave the city the name of “Auld Reekie” (Old Smokey).

The front of our AirBnb building faced New Town, and down the hill from it was a floral clock built in 1901. This year, the clock was dedicated to the Queen’s 70th Jubilee.

For our last day in Edinburgh, I looked forward to taking a walk I had heard about into the the pretty village of Dean. In the 19th century there were water mills on the river, and the workers lived and worked here. It is now tucked into the neighborhoods northwest of New Town. However, I needed to see a doctor about some minor lingering Covid issues I was having. Reluctantly I booked the appointment for the day of our walk. By happy coincidence, the doctor’s office was right at the top of Dean! We were still able to go.

“Your GP” is the doctor’s office I visited. It has to be the prettiest one I have ever been to.
The view across the river from the doctors office
The tall buildings housed the mill workers and are now apartments

After leaving Dean village we were treated to a long woodsy walk along the Leith river. If we had turned left instead of right over the river from the doctor’s office, we could have walked even further. There are great walking paths here and it is a relaxing break from being in the city.

By the way, one of the issues I was seeing the doctor about was that I was still occasionally having long coughing bouts. It would happen at the worst times – in a taxi, or on a tour – places where I could not get off into a quiet corner without bothering others. The doctor and I discussed this problem at length and I finally realized it was happening when I was wearing a mask. The mask dried and irritated my still-inflamed passageways. “But why,” she asked, “are you still wearing a mask? You’re no longer positive. You can’t catch it now, because you have natural immunization.” To realize this…happy day! It was the silver lining in the big Covid cloud. From that day, Covid was no longer much of a thought in our minds. We masked only in airports and airplanes, and public transportation where required by law.

Next time – Stories of Edinburgh

UK and Ireland

The Ancient Tombs of Newgrange and Knowth, Ireland – Europe Travels July 2022

Irish Countryside south of Dublin

Towards the end of our Dublin visit, somewhat recovered from Covid, we took a day trip to the countryside to visit the ancient burial tombs of Knowth and Newgrange, and the Hill of Tara. I first read about Newgrange in a historical fiction novel called “Ireland” by Frank Delaney. It is a 5,200 year old passage tomb built in the Neolithic era by stone age farmers. It sounded very interesting to see, so I booked a day tour when we were still back home. Besides Newgrange, other goodies were sprinkled into the day: the Hill of Tara, and more tombs in a place called Knowth. I was so glad we were at least able to keep this tour scheduled. Coincidentally, we met a woman in the breakfast room at our hotel who was booked on our same tour, because she had read the same book I had!

Once on the bus, our tour guide kept up a constant patter of historical information as we rode, all of which was extremely interesting and most of which I’ve already forgotten. I was so happy just to see the countryside after having been in cities for my entire time in Ireland, and enjoyed gazing out the window as I listened. Our first stop was the Hill of Tara.

The bus let us out, and it was a bit of a hike over to the hill. I was giddy with delight about being out of the city and getting some fresh air. I loved seeing little Saint Patrick’s church and graveyard on our hike. It looked like something out of an Austen or Bronte classic to me. I know…I was in Ireland, not England, but still.

The people in the group had gotten ahead of me as I photographed the church. The higher hill that some of them have already reached in this picture is the Hill of Tara.

This area has been inhabited for at least 6,000 years. The earliest peoples built the passage tombs, and the hills here are also burial sites. In the Iron Age, they were still using them. In that era, Tara became the seat of the high kings of Ireland. According to legend, there was a standing stone here called Lia Fáil, Stone of Destiny. It would cry out if touched by a true king, and the stone below is believed to be the one. It has seemed to have lost its magical powers in the modern era.

Later in history, St. Patrick converted pagans to Chrisitanity here. The stone also marks the spot where United Irishmen were attacked and defeated in their camp by British troops in 1798. Four hundred rebels lost their lives that day.

Continuing on in the bus, we learned from our guide that in this area, the Boyne River forms a large protective bend. The ancient peoples lived their lives here in this fertile valley, where food and water were plentiful.

The Battle of the Boyne also happened here in July of 1690. It was a decisive battle between England and Ireland and was the last time two kings were both present on the battlefield: William of Orange and James II. Because of this battle, the ascendency of Anglican Protestantism in Ireland was assured.

For the Knowth and Newgrange tombs, we boarded an ancient school bus and guides were waiting for us at each site. We nabbed a front seat. I entertained myself watching the driver negotiate the narrow road on the left hand side with a right hand steering wheel, and was very glad we had chosen not to rent a car.

Finally we arrived at Knowth, with its many various burial mounds. These are passage tombs, meaning that it is possible to enter the mounds, but the public cannot do so. Knowing nothing about Knowth before this day, I was surprised to see there were so many in various sizes.

At Knowth, this large mound is surrounded by 17 smaller ones. There are two passages inside and it is bordered by 127 kerbstones. In the next picture, I’ve included a picture of our guide to give some perspective on the size of these mounds, and you can see the kerbstones more closely. The stones are covered with megalithic art, and this is a third of all megalithic art known in Europe – all together, 200 stones. The meaning of the shapes on the stones is unknown.

I thought it was interesting that some of the art was done on the backs of stones and was hidden. There are a lot of theories about this. It’s possible that they intended it to stay hidden. Another theory is that they recycled stones and simply used the other side. Makes sense to me!

Later civilizations, not knowing what was underneath the ground, simply built dwelling places and villages on top of the mounds. This picture that I saw in their small museum illustrates this from left to right. Eventually, the smaller mounds were mostly buried.

These ruins in front of the mounds were the foundation of someone’s home in a later era.

This photo gives an aerial view of the mounds:

Finally, our last stop: Newgrange. The ancients had put the white stones all around the burial mounds to prevent erosion. At Knowth, these white stones were left on the ground. At Newgrange, they were put back as they had originally been. This passage tomb is huge.

The fascinating thing about Newgrange is that it is built with a box to let the sun shine through on the exact day of the winter solstice, December 21. On that single day, the sun sends a beam clear through to the center of the tomb. How did they engineer this to have it work so perfectly? In Delany’s book, the design is the work of a single genius in the tribe who was able to direct all of the inhabitants to carry out the plans. Maybe so. The truth has been lost in history.

The light box is just above the entrance. We were able to go in all the way to the center but no pictures were allowed. There were were no lights inside the tomb; it was illuminated only with natural light from the box. In the center, our guide shone her flashlight through to the front to replicate the solstice experience. It was an amazing feeling to be there; even more amazing if you could be here on the solstice.

Most of the bodies in the tombs had been cremated. When Newgrange was exacavated in the ’70’s, the unburnt bones of one man were found in an elaborately carved niche. Aha. Maybe that was the remains of the “genius”!

If you are thinking it would be great to be at Newgrange on the solstice to see this effect for yourself, tickets are extremely limited (and are probably sold out for 2022, although I haven’t checked). You could go through the expense of getting here, and end up with a cloudy day. So, no sun effect for all that effort!

A kerbstone at Newgrange

Next time – Edinburgh, Scotland