Commentary starts out coming from Mark...
I drove into Logan on Thursday, 7/13, the back way using Route 16, Chelsea, etc. It was slow but never totally stalled, which I figured was happening at the end of the 'Pike and Storrow Drive. It took longer than normal, but nothing out of the ordinary. We took Niles with us. We hopped out and she drove back.
Dinner was wings for Jan and a sandwich for me along with 1.5 large beers. (We each had one then split one.) Boarding was fine except the last 20 minutes of waiting had the terminal's fire alarm sounding constantly. Nobody seemed to take any notice of it. The flight was as expected. I got no sleep; Jan got a little.
Passport control in Manchester on a Friday, 7/14, morning is a queue of maybe 20 people total. Quite a difference from the sea of thousands in the arrival hall at Heathrow. We collected our baggage and picked up the hire car.
Driving over a 100 miles, on no sleep, on the "wrong" side, at 80 MPH, in heavy traffic, at 8:30AM is quite an experience. Recommended only to the enthusiast, not the casual participant.
But we got to our Marriott Courtyard in Coventry without major incident. (Yes, we did miss a couple of turns, had to get to the next motorway exit to recover, etc. But that's hardly major.) It was about noontime by then so we went to the in house bar and got a sandwich for me and wings for Jan. I got tea and Jan water. Too early for other drinkables.
Whilst eating, some other dog show notables (current GRCA President, a past president, etc.) arrived so they sat down with us. Afterwards, we took short naps and then it was back to the bar. This time it was Murphy's (like Guinness) for ma and a gin and tonic for Jan. We were joined by the other dog show people. We had another Murphy's and G&T.
We were booked for a buffet put on by the dog show committee. I was told that started at 7:00. We went over to that (it was in the same hotel), but it wasn't really ready yet. So we sat in the lounge just outside it with yet another dog show person. This time I only had a half pint. I forget what Jan had.
Our table at the buffet had 3 Americans (including us), 2 Australians, 5 Germans, and 1 Scot, although she was really Irish. The Scot/Irish was the show's Judge, sort of a reserve judge in case of ties or disagreements. It was mostly the usual dog show banter; I'll spare you the details. The buffer, as expected, was OK but nothing to write home about.
Breakfast Saturday, 7/15, morning had the usual English Breakfast items. It included beans, but not blood pudding. I guess a Marriott Courtyard cannot be too authentic.
There were 29 regular classes at the dog show then best dog, best bitch, best puppy, and best of breed. Judging started at 9:30 and the last picks were at about 5:30. A long day. All outside. I talked to a number of people, most of whom I didn't know at all. That included what another told me was the "local nutter." He did ramble on - no matter what you did or didn't say. I spoke to Mervyn Philpott who a couple of you will recognize as the late Daphne's husband and co-kennel-owner with the late Joan Gill.
That evening 8 of us went to a very nice Inn/Pub: The Old Mill in Baginton. One car of 4 had a GPS/directions unit and they lead me with Jan and the 2 Australians. Whoever programs those units has a sense of humor. We went through the streets of a housing development. I can't possible tell you if it was the most direct way. A good dinner: I had a mixed grill and Jan a smoked duck salad. Finished with a chocolate cake-like something while Jan had a cheese plate. Oh, yes, 2 more pints each. Courage Bitter this time.
The lead car went out of the car park a different way than we came in, but I dutifully followed. All was fine until some traffic on a roundabout on the A26 put the lead car out of sight. I should have gone 7/8 of the way around when I started up again, but only did just over a half. So, minutes later, at the north of Coventry (the Marriott is on the southeast) as we were joint the M6, I turned off and back into Coventry. I'm happy to just drive, but doing that seems to irritate Jan (and probably the 2 Australian women) so we stopped at a Pub for directions. It was go down a spell, turn left, go some more. OK. But we got back to the A46. Unfortunately, the next exit was where we were joining the M6, etc. So this time I got off and turned around and went back the A26. A handful of roundabouts later I was recognizing landmarks from when Jan and I originally came in and it took the correct final roundabout exit, exited the A45 correctly before the Marriott to cross over the divided highway and reenter the A45 just in time to turn into the hotel. My apologies to the Australians, who were very courteous.
Same breakfast buffet the next morning, Sunday, 7/16. Packed, checked out, and headed for Oswestry, where Ann and Dick Pammet of Channri kennels. That's where our Maestro came from. It's where we took Madge and Lang. It's right by the Welsh border. Jan brought a Maestro picture and we talked. (Dick was out for the morning.) After some tea and cakes (Madge and Lang will remember that Ann always has something for guests) we departed around 1:00.
Then it was up the A-something to the M53 to the M56 to the M6 and heading north. We had booked a farm B&B in Carnforth, just off the M6, just north of Lancaster. We got there a little before 5:00. Nobody was home so we sat out at a table with a sun umbrella and read for a while. Then Vera arrived, opened the house, showed us our room, etc. It's a small farm and I'm not sure what they still do, but they had 3 horses there and there were sheep in the fields and in figurines all over the house. And a trophy for Vera for catching the largest salmon in the River Tay in 1998.
The recommendation for dinner was a pub in Over Kellet. And, yes, we passed Nether Kellet on the way there. The Pub was hosting a large group, but we got a table for two. We had a pint (Tetley's Bitter on hand pump) each and decided on game pie with chips and veg. Definitely just pub food, but the game pie was quite meaty and tasty, and there was carrots, beans, and peas for veg. Jan decided on sticky toffee pudding and I peach Melba. Oh, and another pint each happened along the way. Jan said the pudding was very toffee, hot, and sweet. Well soaked into the cake vehicle for the sauce. The peach Melba was fine; I like whipped cream and ice cream.
We had full English Breakfast the next morning along with cereal and grapefruit slices and tea. A good start to anyone's day. Then off to the M6 north to zoom to Scotland. Just before the border we diverted to a B road and then a smaller B road, heading for Jedburgh. Almost nobody was on the small B road. It was not fast going, but very beautiful. This brought us to Jedburgh on the small road where we came immediately by the Castle Jail, formerly the castle then a jail in the 1800s. Saw that and then walked to Jedbrugh Abbey, one of the best Border Abbeys, although a ruin. Then Mary Queen of Scots House. Then a drive to a country estate/manor house: Bowhill. Finally a drive to Cringletie House, our place for the next 3 nights.
Cringletie House is a beautiful old manor house on beautiful grounds. The house has been restored. They continue to work on the grounds. Nice gardens that will be spectacular in about 10 to 20 years. There's a line up of rubber Wellingtons in the front hall for one to use in wet weather. Upon arrival they very nicely offered tea, so we took tea in our room. Most refreshing.
We tidied up and went to the lounge/bar on the ground floor at about 7:45. We each had a single malt and looked over the menu. Jan chose a Parmesan custard starter then the herb encrusted lamb. I the duck terrine, foie gras mousse, and marinated rhubarb followed by a fillet steak. Whilst in the bar/lounge we got appetizers - some break sticks, some cheese sticks, marinated olives, and 2 other things, all home made. After ordering dinner and a bottle of wine, drinking, and appetizers, we were told our able was ready. So up to the 1st floor to the dining room. There we got our pre-starters, a couple of tasty munchies. Then the starters. Then the entrée. Then we ordered dessert. Jan got a trio of rhubarb things and I the cheese platter. We also ordered decaf (Jan) and tea (me). After dessert was served and finished, we moved to the 1st floor lounge for the coffee and tea and a few after dinner nibbles - petit fours. Then up another floor and off to bed.
Tuesday, 7/18, morning brought us to breakfast where they had set our table of the night before for us. The menu had Eye Openers, Starters, then Sustainers. We opened our eyes with orange juice (fresh squeezed) (Jan) and grapefruit (Mark) and tea. Jan had a fresh fruit salad to start and I had porridge. Then she had salmon and scrambled eggs (not mixed, just both on the same plate) and I the full Scottish breakfast, including the blood pudding. Toast on the toast cooler of course.
Off to Edinburgh for the day. Found the recommended car park after only one extra loop around a handful of blocks. That put us at the back of Edinburgh Castle which means a hundred or so feet below the Castle which is up this almost vertical wall of basalt rock. Quite a hike around and then up to get to the entrance. Of course there was a 40 minute queue and of course not much shade. Everyone says it is extraordinarily hot (and sunny). The sunny is great, but the hot is too hot.
Edinburgh Castle is a fortress for sure. Some old, some newish. Lots of ups and downs. An excellent Great Hall. The "Honours" (crown jewels) were unfortunately not available there having been some incident (not explained) earlier.
We walked the Royal Mile from the Castle to Holyrood Castle, Queen Elizabeth's official Scotland residence. Along the way we toured John Knox's house, possibly the oldest house in that area. My route back looked great on the map but took us through a part of town Jan did not care for. Never in danger, but certainly nothing worth seeing. Finally got to New Town (Princess Street). Passed a tall Walter Scott memorial and then down into a nice garden. That brought us back to the car park. It was around 4:00 and I thought leaving the city before the bulk of the traffic started was a good idea, so we left.
Sitting out in Cringletie House's back yard (part of which is a croquet area to give you the sense of how well it is maintained) with a single malt is great. It is hot but it is cooling and there's a nice breeze. A waiter appears and gives you the menu and wine list. A little latter he reappears with the appetizers. Again it is break sticks, cheese straws, marinated olives, but with a couple of different little munchies. Life is tough eating, drinking, and ordering from the gardens. Tonight I had a pressed terrine of pork and then grilled Bream. Jan had a chicken liver parfait for a starter. She took one bite and said it was wonderful. Then for the main, she had lobster. She proclaims the lobster wonderful, too. In fact, she says both a prize winning items. To finish she had chocolate raspberry torte, also proclaimed very good. I had warm spice cake with poached apricots and licorice ice cream. Then decaf and tea with petit fours in the lounge. I'm not seeing the bill and so it is easy to say I should continue living this way.
Wednesday, 7/19, morning and we decide to go fishy. I take the grilled kipper and Jan the poached haddock with poached egg. Quite good but I think that's my kipper for the trip.
Today is estate, tower, and abbey day. First it is back roads to Abbotsford, Sir Walter Scott's self-designed home. Beautiful house with lots of woodwork. A large library with many volumes and a smaller writing room (where he did write many things) that had a large desk and books on all walls. In fact, two levels of books with a small balcony walk around to get to those on the upper level and small stairs to same. On that level was also a small door to his dressing room and bedroom. It was right on the River Tweed - well, right on being a large groomed lawn. What a place to live and work.
Then Dryburgh abbey. This one in ruins as well, but different ruins than Jedburgh. Also near the Tweed. Next was finding Scott's View. It is said the horses drawing his funeral procession stopped there from habit and to let him once more take in his favorite view. The view is outward but also downward to a large bend in the Tweed. Striking indeed.
Then we went to drive to Mellerstain, a country manor house. But Jan was waylaid by seeing Smailholm Tower. It was a home, albeit it fortified. it was the Pringles, but later owned by Walter Scott's grandfather. It's where Walter came as a lad for country air when he was sickly as a child (since assumed to have been polio). Our path went nearby (it is easily seen from a distance as it is a tower on the top of a rise) so we diverted to it. First turn was simply on to a small lane that wound around some fields' borders. Then that narrowed and we started to enter right into a farmer's farm yard. Yep, there's the sign saying it is the right way. Yep, we're on the concrete farm yard between the farmer's buildings. Yep, there's the farm dogs, sheep, etc. Then up a smaller path and into the car park. The car park is fenced and has a cattle/sheep grate for an entrance. Exit the car and through the style. Now up the sheep-drop-laden path to the tower. And, amazing, there's a Historic Scotland shop and admission place inside the tower's base. Friendly young fellow whose job is to be in a remote tower inside a farm away from everything and charge you a couple of pounds to view the exhibits and climb the tower. Amazing.
Thence on to Mellerstain. We do like touring manor houses. This was the home of the Earls of Huntington. Quite a lot was open. It was designed by someone famous (John Adams or something like that) and was very beautiful. Beautiful gardens too. You could see right down the gardens to the Hundy Mundy in the distance.
Getting late, but we thought we could get to Melrose abbey too. So we took more back roads and did get there. Ruins again, but again different. More of the nave this time. We figure we can piece a whole abbey together in our minds after Jedburgh, Dryburgh, and Melrose.
Our last evening being able to sit on the manicured lawn in the shade with a breeze and have someone bring us Scotch, appetizers, and menus. We enjoy it while we can. Jan's starter is vanilla cured Cod with "brown shrimp" and clam chowder. The brown shrimp turns out to be mussels. And the chowder is all parts to chowder as we know it except for the liquid. There's some liquid but it is more like a stew, maybe not even that wet. In any event it is proclaimed to be exceedingly wonderful. Jan's main of Sea Trout on Pea Green Onion Risotto was deemed good, but not like the 2 previous appetizers or the lobster. I had bacon loaf with fried Monkfish cheeks on cauliflower foam. Yes the foam was cauliflower. Then I had the lobster. Dessert for Jan was panna cotta with biscotti and chocolate doughnuts. She disapproved of the biscotti (had a powdered milk taste). The chocolate doughnuts were 3 small fried dough balls with a bit of chocolate in each. I had gooseberry crumble soufflé. It was gooseberries and bits of crumble in a foamy meringue then baked.
Commentary now comes from Jan...
After our last breaky at Cringletie House: porridge and a full Scottish breakfast for Mark and Jan's "usual", a bowl of fruit, scrambled egg and salmon, we began the longest day/drive of the trip. We took the scenic route over the Cairgorm mountains. It was beautiful, but mostly slow going, lots of ups and downs and curves.
We stopped at Royal Lochnagar distillery about mid-day. It is adjacent to Balmoral Castle, and is Royal because the owner wrote a letter to Queen Victoria the day she and Albert moved in, inviting them to visit the distillery. He was quite surprised when they, with children in tow, arrived the next day, toured and tasted (even the kids) and were highly impressed, granting him their approval.
We continued on, through Glen Livet, to Dufftown, the malt whisky capital of the world. They say "Rome was built on seven hills; Dufftown was built around seven stills." Not all the Dufftown distilleries are still operational, but there are butts and hogsheads of spirit aging in all the warehouses.
I had told Mark I was willing to stay in a downtown hotel one on the trip, so we decided to stay at Daavar House Hotel in downtown Dufftown. Ha! Dufftown is a tiny crossroads with a center "tollhouse" which was the former jail and is now the visitor center. It's mostly B&B's and ours was no exception. Very pleasant accommodations, a nice guest lounge on the ground floor, homemade jams, and fresh eggs from the back yard; and Susan offered to do a full bag of laundry for £5. Since the weather was so hot, we were going through our warm weather clothes quickly, so that was great.
We walked through the village, which took about 15 minutes up and down all the streets, then sat in the center for a while. We ate in the Fife Arms pub, where I had to try the Ostrich fillet. Sadly, it was overcooked. Mark had a steak pie, a better choice.
Began the day with salmon and scrambled eggs, and then our distillery day.
We started at Glenfiddich, about a half mile from the center. They are highly set up for visitors, with the most gorgeous ladies' room ever. Comfy chairs grouped around a glass table in front of a fireplace, a real sitting room. Oak paneling including the toilet stalls in the next room. The towels were paper, but beautifully arranged between each sink. You could have a party in there!
The tour was fun, and, while the technique for making whisky is the same, the tour guide presented info differently from our tour yesterday, so we learned some more. Offered a wee dram at the end of the tour, and bought 2 bottles not available at home. (This set a trend for all future tours!)
Next stop was a Cooperage just down the road. They remake and repair used barrels. We could stand above and observe for as long as we wished. It was fascinating to see how they did it, and to watch the man who tested them for water-tightness. It's hard work.
The barrels used to age the whisky are either French oak casks in which sherry had aged, and American oak used for bourbon. The casks are dismantled after their original use and shipped to the distilleries or cooperages where they are put back together.
Next we went to Glen Grant toured and sampled, but did not buy. They age it only 5 years and it's mostly sold to the Italian market as a mixer, or to the folks who make blended whiskies.
On to Macallan for the last tour of the day, a god one, with good Scotch at the end.
We ate at a French Restaurant in Dufftown, and Mark ate first duck and next pork, while Jan had a spinach cheese soufflé and then venison. It was a very good meal. When we walked in, there was only one other couple there, and I asked politely if we could possibly get a table for 2. She said yes, and we wondered how they could keep running. However, it continued to fill, all people with reservations, and they next couple to wander in were turned away. So again we lucked out and got the last available table. In this little wee town there are at least 5 different places to eat. Our towns here aren't like that.
Today was a full Scotch day.
We began with a full Scottish breakfast for Mark and scrambled eggs with salmon for Jan. Then we drove to The Glenlivet for a tour and tasting. They have a nice exhibit room and interesting stories about the founder, a man they say was "the first 007," given royal license to kill, and he did. There were lots of unlicensed distilleries, or stills, anyway, in the rugged hills, and he was hated for becoming licensed, so people tried to kill him. He slept with dueling pistols under his pillow.
Next we went to Glenfarclas, which is now the only independent distillery in Scotland. Their slogan for their whisky is "the spirit of independence." We had a private tour, and sipped our wee dram at the end in a room modeled after and made from the paneling of a ship's dining room. Good Scotch, too!
So that is 2 tastings before lunch, open sandwich which we ate outside a pub in town.
Next to Aberlour, where after the tour we had a tutored tasting, of raw spirit and 5 different scotches. They offered a fill your own bottle deal from one of 2 casks, either sherry or bourbon. So Jan bottled her own cask strength Aberlour, labeled it and signed the registration book. I chose the sherry cask one, after much waffling back and forth. Both were excellent!
We went to eat at an interesting pub-type restaurant off in the boonies. It was and is a farm. A couple are living off the land, raising Highland cattle, baking bread, and did all the work involved in cleaning up the old granary mill, which was a cattle shed when they bought the place. Lovely people, warm and sociable. She ran the bar and he cooked the food. I had a smoked venison starter and then their own beef. Mark had salmon first and venison with wine sauce. It was a family kind of place, with a family of 3 generations coming in for drinks and then leaving, and other families or couples eating, and a guy who walked up from a nearby caravan park for a couple pints. Also, a 10-year-old beautiful golden retriever who wandered around the restaurant, greeted al arrivals, and mostly slept on the floor by the bar. Nice.
Drove from Dufftown through Inverness, along Loch Ness to Guisachan House (Mecca to Golden Retriever fanciers, source Golden, if you will). Guisachan is where the Golden Retriever breed started. First is an old picture of the House (c 1897). Then a more recent picture, but "today" in its caption was years ago. Following are our pictures. As you can see, much more of the House has fallen apart.
Then north to Ullapool. Strolled through town, ate at the Ferry Boat Inn (ploughman's and steak pie, pint of Black Sheep bitter ale.) Ate ice cream cone while waking along the wall overlooking the boats in the Loch harbour.
North from Ullapool to Achiltibuie, most of which was single lane road with passing spot pullovers. Beautiful views of mountains and lochs of all sizes, green fields giving way to heather as the hills got taller. No trees. Sheep everywhere. Most of the ewes have been sheared, and most are accompanied by one or two 4-5 month old lambs. Many appear to be pregnant again. (We discover later that the gestation period is 150 days.)
The town of Achiltibuie is about maybe 20 houses on either side of the road for 1/2 mile or so, a post office the size of our tool shed, and the Achiltibuie Stores, a small store which sells petrol, Avon Skin-so-Soft (for midge protection), wellies, fishing tackle and flies, chocolates, fruit, tow ropes, wine beer and spirits, souvenirs, greeting cards, etc., the Hydroponicum, which produces lots of the hotel produce, and the hotel. Just beautiful small hotel.
We had time for a short walk before dinner, so we walked up the road about a mile, looking out over the bay to our right (west) and up into the hills to our left (eastward). We passed the school and an artist studio/print shop. Back to our beautiful suite with private entrance to shower and dress for dinner. While in the lounge for drinks and black olives, we were offered a fresh oyster and a bread stick. Today's starter was a lemon sole mousse, very custardy, roast wood pigeon with mushroom, and Scotland lobster, a claw and 1/2 (lengthwise) tail. Delicious, though here they say Lovely or Brilliant. Then we had cheese and then dessert. I had a berry meringue with more berries on top, and Mark had a tangy lemon flan. Then back to the lounge for conversation, tea or coffee, and homemade penuche. They don't force it at all, but they do encourage the guests to mingle and chat both before and after dinner, although we are seated at separate tables for dinner.
It's still light outside!
Monday amazing buffet breakfast with fresh squeezed orange and grapefruit juices, huge bowl of mixed berries: red currants, gooseberries, blackberries, blue berries, strawberries and raspberries. Ate my money's worth!
We began our 2-mile walk down to the Summer Isles boat cruise. A local fellow, Jim Muir, offered us a lift because it looked like rain. He told us that the tour guide on the boat was a friend of his named John Wilding, and he thought we'd have one up on him if we knew his name. He took us right to the pier. We were with 2 other couples for the tour. John Wilding is not only the boat tour guide, but a local fisherman for the past 30 years (now retired at age 70), a jewelry maker hobbyist, and an amateur geologist and naturalist from Reiff. A most interesting man with amazing eyesight. He spotted seals and all kinds of birds, which he described to us and told us about, long before we saw them. Found Nicki a heart shaped stone from Tanera Beg, an island we stopped at on the Isles cruise. Mark and I climbed up to the highest tor, where we had a gorgeous 360 view back to the mainland and all around the islands and across through some haze to Lewis. The wind got a bit gusty and I scrambled back down! Mr. Wilding told us why these islands are called the Summer Isles--it always looks as though it's summer there. Because of the gulf stream, they stay green through the winter, where just a mile inland it's snowy and the lochs are frozen. They take sheep out to the islands for the winter.
We walked the 2 miles back to the hotel and had lunch in the hotel bar after the boat trip. The chive pancake filled with leeks and Stilton was out of this world!
One changes for dinner, convenes in the lounge for drinks, appetizers, and conviviality, and then all go in to dine at the same time. It's a set menu, except for the cheese and dessert courses. Tonight's dinner was smoked haddock and potato soup, lagostinos and spiny lobsters, highland beef with mushrooms, dauphin potato, and sautéed cabbage. We had cheese and then dessert: for me more berries, with a strawberry-raspberry meringue roulade topped with more berries and custard sauce. M had blueberry flan with lemon ice cream.
Today was the coolest day thus far on our trip, but it still didn't rain. There was more wind, and I wore a jacket on the boat, but every single other day has been sunny and hot. It's dark from about 11:30 PM to 3 AM. The sun is still high in the sky when we start dinner at 8:00. I love these deliciously long days!
Went to the smokehouse, but all the fish needs to be kept refrigerated, so we can't bring any back home.
Then we took a walk down through a brae by a bubbling, rushing burn. The brook fed into a small loch and then flowed out again to the sea. The trail led through heather and grass full of flowers, and, like all the soil here, was either wet or rocky. There was a small sandy beach, and a lovely shallowly sloping sandy bottomed bay, where I went wading. Also waded a bit up the mouth of the brook, but it was slippery and then got deep, so I didn't get far. We sat on big rocks in the jumble of smooth rounded stones that divided the sand from the field. It was very beautiful and peaceful.
After our return by the same path, we toured the hydroponicum which is across the road from our hotel, and which supplies the hotel with delicious salad greens and veggies. Got a snack at their little restaurant. Waited forever and a bit longer and finally asked--they never started making our sandwiches! Oops!
Wandered about the hotel gardens a bit, and then relaxed in our room. Mark had a nap, and I had a wee tipple of Glenmorangie. We keep trying different ones.
Dinner was great. Two tiny appetizers in the lounge, then a cold tomato soup. The liquid was clear, but essence of tomato, with 4 pieces of julienned tomato and sprinkled with green and purple basil confetti. Next was a Stilton soufflé, piping hot, then haddock with lagostine tails in a voulete sauce. Absolutely delectable. More cheese, and then dessert. I swore to have only berries and custard, but they had a chocolate hazelnut meringue, so, that was that.
Wonderful hot sunny day today.
We departed from the Summer Isles just after breakfast and took the longer but gorgeous shoreline route to the Skye Bridge. We stopped to visit the Inverewe Gardens, acres of flower gardens and walled gardens and water gardens and woodland gardens, etc. Trails wandered throughout. It was beautiful! It's now a National Trust property.
The drive took all day, since for a bit of it we chose to go 100 miles, in large part on single track roads, rather than 36 miles on good roads, meaning wide enough for 2 vehicles.
We found our B&B easily -- it's the last croft cottage on the road to the Neist Lighthouse. We are in the westernmost house on the Isle of Skye. The scenery is gorgeous. Steep green hills with sheep, rocky cliff dropping straight into the sea, and of course, the sea itself. I can see this view out the window of our bedroom. When I look in the other direction, I see nearly the same view, except the water is a small loch. In fact, I keep interrupting my typing to look out and gawk. So here I sit in the window of our room and directly ahead, across the narrow road I watch twin lambs playing -- they are truly gamboling. They butt each other, then run and chase each other, then jump straight up in the air. Then I look up at the cliff again. It drops 1000 feet into the sea.
After settling in and having tea, we walked down the road to the trail to the lighthouse. Steps down the side of a cliff, then a trail across a dale, then up a long slope, then steps down the other side of that cliff, then a path to the securely fenced, posted, and doubly guarded (dog and video cameras) lighthouse. So we walked past the gate towards the shore, where we saw whales! We could hear them breathe! It was fantastic! I pointed them out to a little Dutch boy we passed on the way back up, and his eyes got as big as saucers. Too cool!
Late but delicious dinner at Three Chimneys, acclaimed one of the top 50 restaurants in the world. It was gooood! I ordered a grilled salmon and shaved fennel appetizer, 3 "natural" local oysters, and rare Highland beef filet. Mark got a crab starter, the oysters, and rabbit and hare with barley risotto. They gave us a pre-starter of Scotland-something gazpacho to sip from tiny ceramic bowls. Then they gave us a pre-dessert of a small liquor glass of gooseberry and elderflower fool. I had to try their famous-for-21-years hot marmalade pudding with Drambuie custard, and I was delighted. Mark ate a blackberry tart with blackberry sorbet and crème fraiche. We got back to the B&B at midnight. Amazingly, we had to go past the restaurant on our way to the cottage, so we knew right where it was, and it's not more than 5 miles away, though on these roads it took 18 minutes to get there. It took more time to get back, since flocks of sheep were sleeping in the road.
Another lovely day.
After a long day yesterday, we decide to keep it simple. So we do a leisurely 20 mile drive to the Talisker distillery, the only one on Skye. The drive goes along the western coastline, so it's very pretty and scenic. You could take a picture anywhere and turn it into a jigsaw puzzle. Talisker is down in a small town on the coast of a loch which flows into the sea. In fact, like many, it's tidal. Every distillery has been different, every tour has been a bit different, and every tasting has been different, too. The sample they gave us was the 10 year, but they had 4 others to nose, and I was intrigued by the 20 and 25 year cask strength whiskeys. I decided to buy one, but when I discovered they were £90 and £105 respectively, I changed my mind. But I asked for a wee taste of the 25-year old, and it was wonderful! Oh well, I'll remember it, and we're bring back lots already.
We drove back via the same route -- there aren't many roads here at all -- and went to Dunvegan Castle and gardens. A very interesting castle, home of the chief of the MacLeod clan for years and years and continuously resided in since built. Many portraits and heirlooms and artifacts. The gardens are lovely, too, similar to Inverewe in style and varied areas connected by paths.
Since we're eating late again tonight, we then took a new road north a few miles to a pub on yet another loch/bay. We took our food outside where there are picnic tables on the lawn, palm trees as well (!), and gazed at the views. I saw a person lying on the picnic bench with her back archin off the end and thought it was a kid. Almost immediately, people with her jumped up in alarm and went to help her. A woman had fainted. They tended her for a moment and then asked someone to call for an ambulance immediately. So I rushed back into the pub to tell them. Meanwhile another patron went to his car and brought out a portable oxygen kit, which helped the woman to regain consciousness. When the ambulance arrived she was able to walk with the EMTs into the ambulance and off they went. Too scary!
This pub/inn is right near the end of the road, so we walked to the end, which turns into a jetty, so we walked out the jetty to the end. Aside from the poor family's distress over the incident, it was a lovely afternoon.
We awoke in the night to the sound of rain, and it's drizzling and a bit cooler this morning.
We actually got underway about 9:15 for our long drive down the west coast to Inveraray. Despite the rain slowing us slightly, and the fog obscuring the tops of the mountains, we made decent time and enjoyed the scenery. Ups and downs, and lots of curves as we followed contours of either hillsides, seacoasts, or loch shorelines. We passed several castles on islands, points, and little spits of sand. It's easy to see how much fighting went on over the years and how they fortified against it.
We stopped to stretch our legs at the Ben Nevis distillery, but did not take their tour. Unfortunately, we couldn't see the mountain because of the clouds--any other day so far it would have been crystal clear.
Then on south to Oban, where we did tour the distillery. Again a bit different presentation, and fun.
Our B&B is gorgeous, a lovely house on the southern shore of Loch Fyne, looking across the Loch to Campbell Castle and the Campbell lookout tower on top of the mountain by the loch. Very impressive scene. The house is spacious and luxuriously appointed, formal yet very comfortable, almost ornate, and Paul and Yvonne are friendly, smart, well-traveled people. Some money here, unlike Moonan Bay, which was in a breath-takingly gorgeous location, but tiny and plainly furnished, homely and comfortable and run by heard-working salt of the earth folks, warm and friendly as they could be.
Paul recommended a nice place they like, and we enjoyed the short drive to Inver Cottage as well as an exceptionally good dinner, not costly, either. I had 2 starters, scallops in sweet chili sauce and prawns with ginger, coriander and green onion. Mark got a steak and Guinness pie. We ordered a mixed green salad and a tomato/olive salad and shared. And we shared a sticky toffee pudding, too.
We are further south, and it's not light quite as long, dark by 11:00 or so...
We again hit the road right after breakfast, although we had a much shorter drive, and arrived in Kirkcudbright by 1:00. We came mostly by motorway, but did take the last bit on our more typical choice of roads, up and down through the hills and countryside and tiny villages.
Had a pint and lunch at the Selkirk Arms: liver parfait with an orange marmalade sauce and smoked salmon on a drop scone (pancake) for me, venison sausage for Mark. Then we walked around the town, which is just a couple blocks of attached homes and shops. Most of the homes are painted in various pastels, very attractive.
We checked in to Gladstone House, our B&B, warmly greeted by Gordon Cowan, who's a talker and bit of a comedian. Other guests had just arrived, so he brought tea up to the lounge for all of us, and we chatted with the Australian couple who are traveling around the world after visiting their son and his family in Seattle.
It rained a bit during the afternoon, but had cleared after tea, so we walked to Broughten House and garden, a National Trust property just a few houses down from Gladstone House. It was the home of artist Edward Hornel, who started out wealthy and was a successful painter, so it's a grand house and the gardens are "laid out with artistry and maintained with great skill and devotion." It's a bit too mature by now, a bit overgrown, with sundials now in the shade of trees, etc, but it's a lovely walled garden.
Serendipity. Lees's aunts rented a home and invited Lees and Stephen, and her siblings to stay for a week this summer and the house is about 6 miles from Kirkcudbright. So we drove there and rang the bell, as it turns out just as Lees was saying, "the Bramhalls are wandering around here somewhere: maybe I should call them." We shared some of our Scotch with them and stayed for a simple meal of pasta and salad, with berries for dessert.
Kim McLachlan, from whom I bought Dee, and who lives here in Kirkcudbright, will pick us up tomorrow morning.
A lovely sunny day again.
Kim picked us up at 9:30 and took us back to her house, just up the main road. We met her son and husband and all the dogs, Dee's sister and 2 brothers, mother and grandmother among them. Beautiful! We spent the morning talking, a pleasant low-key morning.
Then Mark and I went to Threave House and Gardens, a lovely stone manor house and 64 acres of gardens. We spent the whole afternoon there, touring the house and strolling through the many varied types of gardens, from formal, to rock, to walled, to woodland, and anything you can imagine. We then took our bottle of Scotch to Bellrigg, where the Newton family is staying. 9 people finished off the bottle, and then Sally and Margaret took us all out to the King's Arms in Castle Douglas for dinner. Simpler pub meal, but my salmon was delicious. It was nice to talk with Warren and Anna's kids, both really nice.
A nice last day in Scotland.
Checked out of Gladstone House after a short chat with Hilary and Gordon, and spent the morning in Kirkcudbright. We visited McLellan Castle, less a fortification and more of a manor, kind of half way between. Next we went to the 500 years of Scots art exhibition. A small but interesting exhibit, most of the paintings were for sale and many had sold signs. They ranged from about £30,000 to £300,000!
We did a bit of shopping and then drove back to Manchester, hitting some periods of very heavy rain en route. But we made it by about 4:00, returned the car, and repacked all the luggage to include our purchases that we had just been keeping in the car. Looks like we can get all the whisky home! We had a good diner in the hotel, too.
So Tuesday morning we fly back to Boston.
Final comments by Mark...
Jan's bag is overweight, so we move eight Golden Retriever Year Books from it to a smaller checked bar. Still over the free limit, but it that's OK. My carry on is too heavy as well. That's because there are ten (10!) full size bottles of whisky in it. We moved one bottle to Jan's carry on and all was fine. (Imagine what we would have had to do if we had been flying after the recent scare in London!)
Our Customs declaration listed $533 in whisky, but it also listed "canned peaches", which is fruit/food. So we got shuffled to the Agriculture Customer person. She was delighted to have someone sent over to her. What was it we had? Peaches? Oh, canned in a glass bottle. No dried fruit? Not even a ham sandwich? Boring. Go on. So much for the 1 liter per person limitation...