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.


Trip Diary – April/May 2017 – Day 36 – Glasgow, Riverfront Museum & Cathedral

We’ve talked before about the value of hop-on, hop-off buses in cities you’re visiting. You see the general layout of the city, get a little historical background, and see a variety of different sites. Then you decide what you want to visit and take the tour again, getting on an off when you want to.

In Glasgow, we took the bus to the far western part of the city, where we found the Glasgow Riverfront Museum and Tall Ship. The Museum is primarily a display of transportation items, but it also deals a bit with such topics as design, fashion, model building, and so on. One thing we have found in our travels is that creativity in exhibits and presentation is very high, further enhancing the desire to learn about the subject.

The tall ship was a mid-19th Century steam ship that hauled cargo up and down the river and across the seas between countries in the region. Nearly every area on the ship was accessible, giving visitors a real sense of what it might be like to travel on the ship.

Another stop was the Glasgow Cathedral. Several buildings are in the area, including the Royal Infirmary of Glasgow, the oldest building in Glasgow, the Cathedral, another church, and one of only a few police call boxes we found so far. The most interesting thing to me was the placement of headstones flat on the ground, instead of vertical as they usually are. Time and the elements have done a job on many of the softer sandstone tombstones, but it would make a fantastic genealogy project to try to get information from the others. Sites like Find-A-Grave make no mention of the cemetery.


Trip Diary – April/May 2017 – Day 34 – Sweetheart Abbey

This was a travel day from one point to another, with no particular goals in mind other than that. Along the way, however, we ran across this beautiful ruined abbey. After spending nearly an hour wandering around, we were accosted by a young man who chased us away for not buying a ticket to get in and look at the site. By then we had all the photos we wanted, so we drove on.


Trip Diary – April/May 2017 – Day 33 – Hadrian’s Wall & Roman Settlements

Under the rule of Emperor Hadrian, the Roman Empire extended its borders into England (third photo below). Around 122 AD, a wall was built from one side of England to the other, a total of 74 miles, to keep the Picts and other enemies of Rome at bay. Along with the wall, towns, forts, storerooms, and other structures devloped to support the Romans’ mission in Britain (fourth photo).

Following the fall of the Roman Empire, farmers and others began to slowly dismantle sections of the wall to build their own walls to divide their fields. Over time, natural weather, wind and earth movement did its best to destroy the wall even further, but then farmers began finding structures underground as they worked in their fields, students began searching for ancient ruins, and a cottage industry in the preservation of Hadrian’s Wall sprang up. A Roman Army Museum was created to tell the story.

Further down the road from the Museum, Romans built a large fort and an accompanying town developed nearby to support it functions. Vindolanda is now a site that is expected to be explored the next 150 years of more, yielding new information about Roman life in England with each dig.

Birdoswald was the site of a Roman fort along Hadrian’s wall. The boundaries of the fort have been exposed, along with Hadrian’s Wall nearby. The site overlooks a valley, highlighting its value as a military facility.



Trip Diary – April/May 2017 – Days 30-31 – Rosslyn Chapel & the Four Abbeys

We really like the castles found in the UK and Ireland, but we also like the abbeys, churches, cathedrals, and other old structures we come across. This is not to say we don’t like old homes, schools, government buildings, etc., as well. These types of structures is where the history of a nation is contained and, if they are taken car of and protected, they last for centuries so others can see them and study them later.

If you do any genealogical research at all, you find yourself wanting to know more about where your ancestors lived and how they lived. History, very quickly, becomes a hobby to go along with the genealogy, and you have to use them together to successfully find out what you’re looking for.

Rosslyn Chapel, south of Edinburgh, is one of importance to my and my research. It was instrumental in the movie “DaVinci Code,” with Tom Hanks, but that’s not why it’s important to me. I have identified several ancestors who lived and ruled in the area. More pictures are coming of Rosslyn because the carvings are different from those found in other buildings, and also different from each other. Nearly every window, doorway, pillar, etc. is unique from the others.

The four abbeys below important because they were near the border between Scotland and England, and suffered destruction because of their location. They were all magnificent in their own way, and instrumental in wielding religious and political power for their congregations. Built during the 12th Century during David I’s rule as King of Scotland, they were destroyed by King Henry VIII in the mid-14th Century during the Reformation.

Dryburgh Abbey was a huge complex, but is known today as the burial site of Sir Walter Scott, the famous Scottish writer. Scott’s family owned the land Dryburgh sat on, and eventually turned it over to a trust in Scotland to maintain. As a side note, Scott also has large statues in prominent locations in both Edinburgh and Glasgow.

Kelso Abbey was one of the closest to the border, so suffered some of the damage more than the others. To this day, the cemetery at Kelso also seemed to have less care than any other cemetery we have seen so far on our travls.

Lennelkirk Abbey is currently undergoing reconstruction, to a point. The basic shape of the front of the building is being redone, then the workmen will move to the walls so they can be reinforced, although not rebuilt complete. Lennelkirk is a parish that uses the cemetery for burials even today, with some of the oldest going back to the early 1800’s. One of the most notable is Sir Alec Douglas-Home, a British Prime Minister during President Johnson’s term in office.

Melrose Abbey is another with some symbolic connections to conspiracy movies. It was also a huge complex, with what amounted to a small village operating within its walls. After Robert the Bruce successfully “removed” the English from Scotland in the 12th Century, he said that he wanted to be buried at Dunfermline Abbey near Edinburgh, but he also wanted his heart to be buried in Jerusalem. His heart went to the Middle East on a Crusade, but eventually was brought back to Melrose Abbey for burial. The round stone below marks its possible location in the cemetery at Melrose.

BONUS: Not an abbey, but a tower, Smailholm Tower was a watchtower-type structure near the Scottish border with England. It was eventually purchased by Sir Walter Scott’s family when they bought the farm it was on. It is said that Scott lived there a number of years and got inspiration from the solitude of the area.




Trip Diary – April/May 2017 – Day 29 – St. Andrews, the Birthplace of Golf

St. Andrews, located in Fife, was the birthplace of golf. The Old Course, as it is called, is still available for play, but you make a reservation at some point way in the future (a year or more away), and then you plan your vacation around that date, not the other way around. To get to the clubhouse, or the National Golf Museum, you drive ACROSS the first tee, which runs right along the coastline.

Castle again, here, but only ruins again. Commanding views of the North Sea between the UK and Scandinavia, the castle was an important part of the UK’s defenses years ago, especially during the Second World War.

You have a castle, you almost have to have a cathedral, too, and St. Andrews does. The cathedral honored St. Andrews, the patron saint of Scotland.

The Scottish flag has a pair of white bars crossing each other in the center on a field of blue. The cross, at one time, symbolized the drawing and quartering of a prisoner. The plaque on the side of the building below displays that punishment exactly.

Prince William (hopefully the next King of England!) and Kate Middleton were both students at St. Andrews when they met, according to popular legend, in the cafe below. No one else makes a similar claim, so it must be true, right?

Just an aside here about the British Royalty. Queen Elizabeth is loved dearly, and will be sorely missed when she dies. Her husband, Prince Philip, tends to put his foot in his mouth, much like Donald Trump at times, but the press here is different and tend to give him a lot of leeway with his foibles. Philip retired from public life recently, giving the press only the upcoming elections (and Donald Trump) to talk about.

To continue, Prince Charles, Elizabeth and Philip’s son, is not very popular, and if kings were elected, he would lose the election. He gained a lot of good feelings of the people when he married Princess Diana, but after her death and the revelation that he was seeing Camilla on the side, his popularity has taken a nose dive again. Charles would love to be king and, in fact, has been preparing for the role since the 1950’s when Elizabeth assumed the throne.

Standing in the wings, however, is Prince William, Charles’ oldest son with Diana. He was always popular, but got a big bump when he married Kate, and would be the best choice to most Britons if a successor for Elizabeth was needed. Prince Harry is OK, and does a lot of work with veterans, also making him popular, although not as popular as William. The Brits have thought long and hard about replacing Elizabeth some day, and have even passed legislation in Parliament that allows a variation from the traditional line of succession. It is only a matter to time to see what happens.