Day Thirteen

This morning, the sun is out, its gloriously warm and Stirling is looking wonderful. After a hearty Scottish breakfast, what more could you ask for than a 3 mile hike up to the Wallace Monument that looms over this city, like a silent watchman.

A stroll over the famous Stirling Bridge, scene to so many battles of legend and up a hill, of course, takes you to the visitor center at the base of the monument. Once up to the structure itself, pause for a bit to take in the view down over the city and across to the Castle. It could not have been a better day for this visit.

The Monument itself is quite the imposing structure. Very tall,& majestic. There are four levels, each telling not only the tale of William Wallace, but honouring other heroes from Scotland past. 243 small steps up around, and around, and around. The exhibits are thought provoking – the period of time something I will want to review because its long forgotten from my days of high school history. Very moving.

The last stop at the top of the monument makes it all worth while. Stunning scenery, a view of the winding river that snakes its way through Stirling, the source of centuries of battles. The hills giving way to the lowlands, both historic and modern buildings existing together without effort. There is a sense of peace, something Wallace was fighting for, would have been happy to know finally came to be.

After a bus ride back into the city, there was a short stop in a local in time to get caught up in the excitement of the British Lions win over the Aussies. These Scots do love their sport. Then back to Edinburgh, last stroll around the old town. There is a special treat at the hotel – Hendricks G&T. Somehow fitting for a final night is Scotland.

This is it. Heading home tomorrow am, reality rushing back by Monday. It’s been fun! Thanks for following along. Cheers!

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Day Twelve

How did it get to be “day 12”? This holiday has flown by!

This morning I woke up in a Hotel that was built in 1785. Robert Burns once stayed here and wrote a quote on one of the windows. It’s very grand by late 1700 standards, the dining room at bit much to deal with first thing in the morning, but the staff quick with the tea & toast – full Scottish breakfast available on the buffet (boofey, in Scottish) Still not going for that blood pudding….

It was all up hill from there – literally. First stop, the old town jail and the tourist info office. Onwards to the Church of the Holy Rude. This building can only be described as ‘solid’. Quite the imposing site, huge cemetery to visit that also gave an amazing view of the Castle and beyond.

The Stirling Castle is the main focus for today. Home to the Stewart Kings, scene of many sieges, rebuilds and finally one of the grandest old castles for viewing in Scotland. The surrounding old town, something legends are made of. The William Wallace Memorial stands on a hill about 5 miles away, while Robert the Bruce, who was raised in this castle, is immortalized on its grounds.

Several hours were spent touring the castle grounds itself. Every entry and room telling what life was like, an insight into the perils of Royal life and the intrigue that entailed. Family members murdered… The usual stuff of soap operas. Quite fascinating really.

A very interesting character appeared, offering free tours of the Argyll Lodging. Quite frankly, I might have passed, but it sounded interesting, so the mission was to find somewhere to catch a quick bite and kill and hour. Fortunately there was another 200 year old hotel that offered a cozy place to sit and eat, great food and a chance meeting with another Canadian couple who were on a 5 week hiking trip. The weather today is beautiful, so a patio stop perfect.

The Argyll Lodging turned out to be a home, built in several stages, owned by multiple interesting commoners with close ties to the royals who lived up the street in the castle. The tour really offered an insight into life in the 1600s. Pomp and circumstance, the colour purple and it’s meaning, how many snails were required to make this colour… It was all very worth the time. One if the owners was the Viscount of Canada and was so important to New Scotland or Nova Scotia, symbolism in his coat of arms looked vaguely familiar…. Beavers, native indians to start with.

After leaving the lodging and thinking about checking out the bus arrangements for tomorrow, a very unique character Appeared by chance. Local history freak, making a living hosting walking tours. He stopped to chat, and chat he did. Wonderful to meet someone so into the real people stories of his town. Everyone is so focused on the big tourist stops, it was such a treat to hear the more common tales .. He also recommended a great place to eat!

The last lesson of the day. Every city and even small towns have what I thought was called the Market Square. I was wrong, it’s the Mercat Square. This is the spot where local justice was dispensed. In Stirling, there were two weavers executed in the Mercat Square in the 1820s because they were protesting for the right to vote. Trade associations, or as we know them – unions, were thought to be enough of a threat that this type of radical thought had stiff sentencing. The Stirling square post and many others often have a unicorn on the top. The unicorn is a renaissance sign of Christ, the Scottish Kings felt they were twice as holy and that’s why two unicorns appear on the Stewart crest.

It’s funny the things you learn when you run into a fellow history freak. If you think about it, ask me about Darnley House. Now that’s a great story!

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Day Eleven

Inverness, while a pretty city, has some great walking space, but unless you have a car, or wish to pay to take tours outside the city, it is limited for things to see and do. It was fun to pop into a cemetery, not to find anyone in particular, but to read the stones. They are like mini novels, listing professions, personalities and other life bits along with the usual names and dates. Quite fascinating really.

There is a really interesting old market that once was probably a true “market”, but today only a few food venders still exist. It’s mostly tourist type shops and a couple of places… who knows who buys from them. The fish monger was very interesting, great selection of salmon and other game.

So there it was. Noon. Train doesn’t leave until 5:30… What to do? Well, it was a beautiful sunny day, there was a patio and water. Three guesses, first two don’t count. It turned into a very lazy day. Had a great chat with some locals, one was supposed to be at a funeral, they had never been further than Edinburgh, and didn’t know a lot about Canada, but great to talk to if you could understand the brogue. Thing is, they are not the ones with the accent over here! There was also a Bollywood film being shot on the footbridge that was amusing to watch in action.

The train from Inverness to Stirling takes you through the heather covered mountains, into lush farmland. The sheep are much more orderly closer to Perth – penned into proper fields, now wandering wherever, it’s like order is restored.

So, next stop Stirling. The hotel was built in 1785. Very cool loft room with views of the historical district. Internet only in the bar, it’s a plot. Cant wait to get out there tomorrow and explore. Stirling looks like a cool place. Lots of Mel Gibson vibes, a great place to take in on the great Scottish adventure.


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Day Ten

The sun was promised today, but not quite first thing when the bus to Ft.William and Inverness was leaving Oban. I was a little disappointed because we would be traveling through the area known as Lochaber, parent name to Lochaber, QC. It was not disappointing, however. Somehow the low mist hanging over the mountains made the drive an almost mystical experience. Eventually it lifted and the sky cleared. The scenery is nothing short of stunning. It can not be compared with anywhere else I have ever seen in the world. More sheep, coos, and an occasional red deer sprinkled the landscape. Other than the small villages, there were very few farm homes to be seen.

We did stop in the village of Lochaber, and there was a necessary bus change in Ft.William. And after a wonderful drive along the shores of Scotlands’ largest Inland lake – Loch Ness – by noon we were downtown Inverness, on the hunt for a room to spend the night.

Inverness is a very bustling city. The River Ness runs through the center of its historical district and there is a castle perched on a modest hill overlooking the city from all directions. After a quick lunch in a recommended pub, a nice leisurely stroll down one side of the waterfront and up the other was the perfect way to unwind from yesterdays adventure and todays long bus ride. It is pretty amazing that we travelled from one side of the country to the other in only 4 hours. – no wonder they dont really understand the vastness of Canada!

Tomorrow a little more street wondering and a train to Stirling for a couple of days. I do know that my Paul ancestors came from an area just outside of Inverness, but getting to that area would require renting a car… Not quite up to driving on the wrong side of the road just yet – maybe next trip? For now Andy Murray is doing well at Wimbledon, the pubs are packed, its almost as intense as a Stanley Cup game!

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Mull & Iona cont…

The Iona Abbey has has many reconstructions over the years. Along with many Kings, this is the last resting spot of a number of knights and a Duke of Argyll. Most of the stones that still have recognizable symbolism on them have been relocated to the cloister area in an attempt to shelter them from the elements. Painstaking restoration work is evident everywhere and a small museum with other artifacts is located in what was once the infirmary.

The alter itself is fairly new. Carved from the beautiful, green Iona marble. A stone found exclusively on this island. The old alter had been chipped away on by people who believed the stone would protect them from drowning.

It was on the Abbey grounds I planted my Canadian Flag. Here’s to you Dougald – your made it back across the sea to see your home.

The extra bonus of the day was meeting Mary McMillan at the heritage center. She has put me in touch with a local woman who researches the old Mull families and I have hope that I will find which Mcinnis family my Dougald belongs to. She was also able to identify the location his first wife Ann McDonald was buried in, she was the mother of my dads gr.grandfather Neil Mcinnis. We drove through the area on the way back to Oban. The feeling of being so close to her was amazing.

Mother nature treated us for braving the horrible weather on the trip back to the Oban ferry. All the rain produced an amazing display of waterfalls just teaming down the hills. It was a very rare sighting, and the locals were happy because they had actually been dealing with drought conditions, not having seen rain in several weeks. We finished up the day with a HUGE feed of local seafood. Somehow it was very fitting.


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Day Nine – Mull & Iona

My father was born in a house outside of Thurso, QC. That homestead had been built by his gr.grandfather Dougald Mcinnis, who had been a “crofter” or tenant farmer, encouraged to go off to Canada during a period called the “Highland Clearances”. Dougald and his second wife Janet McMillan were among many who came from the Isles of Mull & Iona who founded their new home in what is called Lochaber Bay. I have only one record of this Mcinnis family living on Iona in 1841.

Iona is a story all it’s own. A religious settlement, founded in the 5th century by a monk later to be St.Columba. He is credited to bringing christianity to Great Britain. Being located in the center of the Inner Hebrides islands, it was also in the middle of some major trade routes. Invaded by Vikings, burned down and rebuilt, its also where several Scottish Kings (including Duncan & MacBeth) were taken for burial. It really is the stuff of legends, a very good subject to read up on.

Today a small community lives on the island, including one of faith who come on pilgrimage, some just to visit and some to stay on. It’s a beautiful, haunting location.

The day was not good. Rain, cold, wind. But, not to be detoured, literally hundreds lined up for the ferry that left Oban at 9:00 sharp. We braved the miserable weather to catch views on the reseeding harbour, the highland mountains raising in the mist, the old castle ruin….. And finally the Isle of Mull.


We all make a dash for the buses that are waiting on the dock. The journey to catch the next ferry to Iona may only be 37 miles, but it will take us over an hour to reach it. Single lane roads that require occasional pullovers, to let traffic go by, dodging sheep who wonder aimlessly across the island, mingled with small herds of “coos” – the furry highland cattle. Between raindrops we also catch glimpses of lochs, and streams, a few rural cottages sprinkled in the countryside, a couple of very small towns. There are only 3 roads, one along the south coast, one up north the Tobamorey, and one that cuts across country to join them up.

The rain really started to come down while we waited for the second ferry. The sea was also a bit rough, and we watched as this small boat rolled sideways, fighting the swells before coming to land. The side dropped directly onto the ground and a couple of cars pulled off. Foot passengers had to wait for the right moment in-between waves, so as not to be totally soaked. The 30 min ride was everything it looked like it would be from the shore, but finally after hopping a wave on the other end, I was standing on this little island, once home to the Mcinnis family. There are no words….

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Day Eight

Well, it was time to leave the luxury of the Edinburgh Residence and catch the 7:04 train to Glasgow, then on to Oban on the west Coast. The ride takes you through the mountains with breathtaking views of streams and waterfalls, the occasional castle ruin and the fields are literally filled with Rhododendron in full bloom and the odd bunch of wild Floxglove for extra colour. It’s everything you could imagine the Scottish countryside should be.

Transfer in Glasgow went smoothly, but I was hoping to get a clearer look at Greenock, where the Millars and probably the McInnis family set sail to Canada. It’s a fairly large port, only glimpses across the bay possible, inbetween clumps of trees, and then suddenly it was foggy and the town almost disappeared.

Finding Oban is easy. The train doesn’t go any further and they kick you off at that point. In case you missed it, there are Gaelic signs to greet travelers to this popular tourist town and the place is bustling with visitors speaking so many languages, its hard to keep up.

After making arrangements for tomorrow, it was discovered that the Roseneath Guest House was up what can only be called a very steep hill. Dragging the suitcase up it, reminded me why it was such a wise decision to pack light. Oban has a main street and harbour, the rest of it is up that hill! Definitely worth the hike to see the view, complaining finished.

There is this “thing” on top of it all . McCaig’s Tower. A bit of a folly as the locals say. I decided it was best looked at from afar. Freaking thing would require mountain climbing equipment to get to!

So the relaxed agenda was to take a walk around to size up the place, check out a local pub, a quick but pleasant lunch/dinner. I should mention that Oban is famous for seafood – so much fresh fish and shellfish, a real treat. But there’s this other thing the town is known for and gosh, darn it if they don’t offer tours and free tastings… When in Rome they do say. ….


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The Residence

I would like to take a moment to talk about the Edinburgh Residence. When a friends mother generously offered up her time share over a year ago, I took about three seconds to consider it. To be honest, there was no thought as to where it was located or what type of accommodations it might be, I was just on a mission to get to Scotland and the offer sealed the deal. While extremely grateful, I had no idea what we were to walk into.

Based in the West End village, a trendy up and coming area that borders Queensfery Rd., the location is home to some very cozy pubs and upscale restaurants, close to the Haymarket Train Station and only a couple blocks from Princes St. – easy access to both Old Town & New Town.

What I wasn’t prepared for were the 12 foot ceilings, enormous bow window with the gorgeous view down into the Historic Dean Village. The washroom is the size of an average NYC hotel room and a thing of beauty. The staff are very helpful, offering suggestions and assistance, I think slightly amused by a couple of wide eyed Canucks.

Feeling truly spoiled and very appreciative. Life is awesome!

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Day Seven

Where did seven days go? It feels like yesterday that plane landed on Scottish soil.

A bit of an ‘off’ day today. No real plans and downtown is totally jammed because the queen is visiting. As far as I can tell, she is on holidays – hope dare she, it’s my time in Edinburgh! The visit doesn’t even make the local paper… Sort of like when Stephen Harper goes to Toronto.

Looking for somewhere of note for breakfast, we stumble into “Browns” on George St. Better known as a cocktail bar, they serve up a mean breakfast. Scottish salmon, scrambled eggs, toast, coffee and fruit for 7 GBP. Best so far on my list..

After that, a few hours wondering New Town. First planned city ever. Such practical people, these Scots. High end shops, galleries line the streets, statues and tributes on every corner, views of the Firth of Forth…. Sunshine. All is good.

All good things must end and it’s time to move on. There is a suitcase to be packed, travel arrangements to be made. Tomorrow early the train leaves for Glasgow and then transfers to Oban. The second stage of this adventure begins. One last pub meal in Edinburgh at Berts – famous for a pint & pie meal combo, a few local tastings and back to the residence to sort and be ready for a 6am start.

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Day Six – coach trip into England

Back in the early 1980s, I picked up something to read in a second hand book store in Irvine, California. Holy Blood, Holy Grail has been read about 4 times now, and referred to often. This book set off a curiosity in me for the time of Templar Knights and mysteries of the church during that period in history. I’m not a religious person, but totally fascinated by what can be learned of history from religious writings. Key to the end of this book is the authors musings about a certain church in Northumbria where Templars, knights and Robert the Bruce legends live strong today. And then a few years ago, Hollywood got a hold of a fictional story, based loosely on the book and recruited Tom Hanks to lead. Since the Devinci Code, visitors to the now famous Rosslyn Chapel have skyrocketed, most hoping for a glimpse of something familiar from the movie, but many also interested in this bizarre church, that has a long and painful history. The masonry and symbolism will probably never stop being a source of discussion, but a first glance the place looks like some sort of art project gone amuck.

The tour began early Saturday morning. A small group of 24 on a small coach van capable of going down those country lanes not accessible to the larger busses. The itinerary included Rosslyn, Melrose, the Borders and Hadian’s Wall. Rosslyn Castle and the Chapel itself was as mystical and intriguing as imagined. First construction began in 1446 by Sir.William St.Clair, the chapel survived reformation, Cromwell, and fire. It remains in the ownership of the same family almost 600 years later. The castle is now a ruin, but a country home on the grounds still functional and in use.

We continued through the countryside to Melrose. A charming little village, famous for its Abbey ruin, the very spot where legend dictates the heart of Robert the Bruce has been buried. A perfect spot for a picnic lunch and some local ice cream.

After that, we headed into the Borders. This area earned its name because of the multiple disputes over where the border between Scotland and England should be. It moved so many times, no one really knew where it was. It’s an beautiful part of the country, high rolling hills and mountain vistas…. And a very formal Border marker.

From the border, we headed to the Northumbria National Park, to what was once a Roman fort, and a portion of what is left of Hadian’s Wall. No one mentioned until we arrived at the visitor center , the in order to see the wall, there would be is little hike up one of those beautiful hills. A mile and a bit uphill later we stood in the fort ruins with the most amazing view of this Roman artifact. It was very worth the effort. Just stunning.

Some very tired but happy tourists returned to the bus, and we headed back towards Edinburgh. A quick pit stop in the village of Jedbourgh an viewing of another Abbey Ruin, we finally made it back to the big city by 8pm. It was a very good day.

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