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Trip Diary – April/May 2017 – Days 47 & 48– Blair Castle, Atholl Highlanders, Clan Gathering

Blair Castle, at the heart of Blair Atholl, is the historical seat of Clan Murray. The Atholl Highlanders, a private army created with the blessings of Queen Victoria, guard the castle and stand ready for orders from the 12th Duke of Atholl, who lives in South Africa. The castle itself is run by a national foundation, but the Highlanders have exclusive access to the ballroom below.

Michael Murray, Marquis of Tullibardine, and his younger brother, Lord David Murray, are sons of the Duke. Michael is in line to inherit the title of 13th Duke of Atholl. Both officers in the Highlanders, they were officiating over the annual Parade the Saturday before the Clan Gathering.

The Clan Gathering on Sunday was interesting for several reasons. We were looking forward to a Highland Games in Scotland so we could compare with games we’ve been to in Colorado. The usual food, jewelry, clothing, and amusement booths were in abundance, but there was much more of an emphasis on the Shot Put, Caber Toss, Hammer Throw, and bagpipes than we have seen. Once the games had concluded, Michael Murray kicked off the festivities, and the field opened up to family events and sports. Sporting events at games in the States are usually off to the side somewhere, and are not usually headline events.

We first saw fidget spinners in London, but many of the shops couldn’t get enough to keep them on the shelves. We didn’t know they had appeared in the States until we got home.

 

 

Trip Diary – April/May 2017 – Day 46 – Murray Tour

After traveling south from Inverness to Blair Atholl and the center of Scotland, we spent the afternoon visiting sights of interest to the Murray Clan, both Abercairny and Tullibardine. In the first photo below, Daniel Parker, President of UK Clan Murray and a cousin through his wife, Anna Murray, showed us around “The Stables,” a wedding venue they started a few years ago. The structure was actually the horse stables of the Estate of Abercairny a few miles down the road where Anna’s father lives. It was moved up the road stone by stone during the 1700’s, and is filled with original paintings of Murray ancestors.

Traditions and memories are the hallmark of the UK. Near The Stables is a small plot of land where the dogs of the family since the mid-1800’s are buried. There are also several gardens available for weddings, including this formal garden with 17th Century furnishings.

Tullibardine Chapel was our next visit, with its original wood ceiling beams and glass windows. The Murrays of Abercairny married the Drummonds of Strathearn, ending up with over 13,000 acres of land altogether. The Murrays of Tullibardine left the area and moved south toward Perth, eventually ending up with enormous holdings in their own right.

 

Trip Diary – April/May 2017 – Day 45 – Loch Ness & Inverness

Inverness is the gateway to the west of Scotland and the isles (Skye and the Hebrides), and also the north of Scotland and the isles (Orkneys and Shetlands). Loch Ness and its famous, although questionable, inhabitant, “Nessie”, is BIG business in Inverness. An exhibition center and mandatory gift shop tell the story of Nessie, but also introduce visitors to the real science taking place in the lake over the decades. A major study of Zooplankton and other minute sea creatures has prompted sonar studies of the lake itself, eventually mapping the entire lake to its full 700+ foot depth. Loch Ness was also the site of an ill-fated land speed record attempt, one of the few recreational uses ever made on the lake.

 

The only way to truly “see” Loch Ness is by ferry. Loch Ness is actually one of three lochs and a canal leading north to Inverness. A lighthouse that doesn’t look much like a lighthouse makes the end of the canal where the loch begins. The ruins of Urquhart Castle lies on the west shore of the loch at its midpoint.

You can’t go on the lake without wondering whether you’ll see Nessie or not. One possible solution to hundreds of sightings over the years is shown in the photo below. When two boats, in this case large ferries, cross paths on the loch, the wakes eventually intersect and form loops that could be mistaken for “humps” of a creature under the right conditions. On this day, however, Nessie was nowhere to be found.

 

Trip Diary – April/May 2017 – Day 44 – Inverness to Isle of Skye

We wanted to visit at least one island while we were here, and we chose Skye because it was one of the largest. Big mistake! We found out the Outer Hebrides have better weather, by far, than Skye, which has the nickname “Cloud Isle.” We found that out was a good name. We woke up to rain in the morning on the Isle, and drove higher and higher into more dense clouds. Barely able to see a few hundred feet in front of us, we decided to cut our loop trip short and return to Inverness.

As we left the Isle, we stopped at Eilean Donan Castle, a 13th Century stronghold on the shoreline, accessible only by an easily-defensible bridge.

Back to Inverness to prepare to find Nessie tomorrow!!

Trip Diary – April/May 2017 – Day 43 – Aberdeen to Inverness

As I wrote yesterday, the name Gordon is big in these parts. Based out of Huntly Castle on the eastern Highlands, they ruled a vast area. George Gordon, 2nd Earl of Gordon, was known as the “Cock of the North” and has a song written about him. The Gordons were also the first family to be given the title Marquis. The inscription on the front of Huntly Castle denotes that fact.

Further down the road, we ran across Brodie Castle. Don’t know much about it, or the family now living in it.

Just outside of Inverness is Culloden Field, the site of another famous battle in Scotland’s history, although not one to be proudly discussed. The Scots who supported Bonnie Prince Charlie (Charles, son of King James II) were Jacobites (James in Gaelic) who fought in opposition to George, the English King from Germany, supported by other Scots. From what I know, the clans I’m related to were sympathizers of the Prince, and fought and died for him at the Battle of Culloden in April, 1746.

The two forces lined up in the huge field opposite each other. Noted by the blue flags for the Jacobites and the red flags for the British, they charged. Seriously outnumbered, over 700 Jacobites fell and died on the first charge. As the others tried to re-group, they were cut down in large numbers, as well. The Jacobite ranks broke and tried to escape, but the British had orders to kill every opponent, with some being caught and killed days after the battle. Others who died were civilians who had nothing to do with either side in the battle. Culloden became the last armed resistance between the Scots and the English.

Many clanmembers were buried in mass graves in the field. The owner of the property put markers on the graves in the late 1800’s to show the locations of known graves. Dead British soldiers were also buried in a large mass grave near the British lines.

On this day, as days before, the landscape was worth capturing in photos. Everything is in full bloom now, and promises a beautiful Summer for future visitors.

 

 

 

Trip Diary – April/May 2017 – Day 42 – Aberdeen and the Castle Loop

In a day-long trip west of Aberdeen, you can visit a number of castles. Some are simply ruins, long forgotten, while some are being renovated, and others are dwellings for the wealthy and famous, including a royal family. We missed a few because we drug our feet, but here they are:

Drum Castle

Crathes Castle

Craigevar Castle

Glenbuchat Castle

Balmoral Castle – Queen Elizabeth II’s home away from home in Scotland, just along the River Dee

 

The Gordons, my primary clan, are HUGE in the Aberdeen area. The renowned Gordon Highlanders have a museum there, and the name Gordon appears elsewhere in the district. This was a memorial in a small town, simply honoring members of the community who had fought and died with the Gordon Highlanders.

As we drove further into the country, especially on the northern leg of the castle loop, the road got narrower and narrower, with numerous “Parking Places” where you’re expected to pull over and the oncoming traffic go by. It always seemed we had to yield to oncoming cars, but they didn’t seem to have to do the same. One particularly interesting road feature was a single-lane bridge we had to cross.

As usual now, another piece of beautiful landscape….You have to look into the future for the beauty of this shot – just image all that brown you see now, which happens to be heather, and project yourself into August or September when the brown turns to all shades of blues and purples.

 

Trip Diary – April/May 2017 – Day 40 – Aberdeen

Another travel day, this time up the eastern coast from Stirling to Aberdeen. Aberdeen is an old city that has experienced a lot of ups and downs as its economic base has changed over the centuries. It is on an up-cycle right now with the North Sea oil trade, but recent developments are raising new doubts. Beautiful country along the way, as shown by the photos.

Trip Diary – April/May 2017 – Day 39 – Oban to Falkirk

Back towards population centers again….. the main goal being the area around Stirling and Falkirk, directly between Glasgow and Edinburgh, but further north.

Stirling, and its bridge, figure dramatically in the history of Scotland. William Wallace (Braveheart) and Robert the Bruce fought here, and chased the English out of Scotland after the Battle of Bannockburn. Stirling Castle has a long history of royal residency and royal burials.

Cyndie kept talking about the Kelpies. She had seen something about them somewhere, but I had never heard of them. They turned out to be these sculptures (pictures are far better than words for this)….

We found them in a large park in Falkirk, south of Stirling. They are made of stainless steel and stand about 90 feet high. The artist built them in miniature, then enlarged each piece at an industrial plant before assembling them on-site. We didn’t stay, but they are lit at night.

Besides seeing giant horses, we finally managed to get a good view of the Highland Cow (heilan coo) everyone talks about. I think this one was looking at me when I took his picture, but a few seconds later he went back to eating. They are supposedly plentiful, and adapt especially well to the Highlands, but we’ve only seen them in a few places, and then usually far away.

 

Trip Diary – April/May 2017 – Day 38 – Glasgow to Oban

Today was a travel day. Pictures, primarily landscapes, are the rule of the day.

This drive took us to the west coast of Scotland itself, with a view of the Hebrides as we drove. Oban is a small village right on the coast, but with an island feel. Everything in this part of the country has the rugged, rough country look to it. Lakes, and there are a lot of them from Loch Lomond north, are crystal clear. Loch Lomond is a big recreational area, but as you travel west and north, recreational use drops off dramatically.

Trip Diary – April/May 2017 – Day 37 – Glasgow City Views

Glasgow is an unusal city in several ways. It is more vibrant and alive than Edinburgh, the capital city of Scotland. Its population is also 3-4 times that of Edinburgh. SkyNews and BBC have their offices and broadcast facilities here, rather than the capital. The universities are larger and more numerous, too. Modern buildings are not nearly as prevalent in Edinburgh. Some of the things that caught our eye were:

One of our final stops on the bus tour was the People’s Palace, opened by Queen Victoria, who also turned on the fountain at the site. She also stands proudly on top of the center column. The highlight of the museum is the exhibition of various aspects of the life of the common man in Glasgow, hence the name of the building.

We are not caught up completely yet, but the last few days have been days of travel more so than photography and site visitation. I am working on pictures after I post this, so it will be soon.