Thursday, January 04, 2007

Trip to Scotland

During my daughter’s October break from school, we all took a one-week trip to Scotland. We flew into and out of Edinburgh. In Edinburgh, we rented a car and drove around the highlands. It rained at least a part of almost every day, but we had a great trip anyway.

High Above Fort William

Day 1, Saturday, October 7, 2000 – We woke up early and took the train into the airport. Our flight was to leave at 8:15, so we had to be at the airport about 7. We didn’t check in any luggage, so we wouldn’t have to wait once we landed in Edinburgh. The travel agent had booked us on what was supposed to be a direct flight, but I noticed in the airport that the board was showing our flight as Düsseldorf to Birmingham to Edinburgh. Once we were in the air, we found out that we did in fact have to stop in Birmingham and go through customs. On the plane, we were served a full breakfast. The kids received a coloring book and a little toy on the flight. During the descent into Birmingham, my son’s ears really started hurting him. Mine were giving me problems as well. At Birmingham, we were forced to take all of our luggage off the plane, deplane, go through customs, and get back on the plane. I thought this was pretty ridiculous, but I assumed it was because Edinburgh probably didn’t have direct international arrivals at their airport.

Once we left Birmingham, the flight on to Edinburgh only took 45 minutes. It was raining pretty hard in Edinburgh. We picked up the rental car, which had the steering wheel on the right hand side. Of course, I had to get used to driving on the left side of the road as well. This felt pretty awkward as we drove out of the airport.

Our plan was to drive about an hour outside Edinburgh to the Trossachs, which is the area in which Rob Roy lived his life. The kids fell asleep pretty quickly, because they had been up since about 6. The rain continued, and I was having some problems driving. Sitting on the right hand side, it was very hard to judge how close we were to the left edge of the road. There were hard curbs on all of the roads, and I was constantly banging into the curbs. Our friends, the Hewletts, had been to Scotland the year before and had told us that they had the same problem. In fact, they blew out a tire once when they hit a curb.

Due to the rain, it took us a little over an hour to get to Aberfoyle, our destination in the heart of the Trossachs. Unfortunately, it was so cloudy we couldn’t really see the scenery. We drove up to our Bed and Breakfast, on the outskirts of Aberfoyle, but there was nobody home. So, we drove to the tourist information center to kill some time. On the way into the center, I saw an older Scottish man walking on the street in full Scottish attire (including kilt). Inside the center, there was a play area for the kids. The entire play area was built inside a huge play bus. There were some oversized soft toys and an interactive video game (which was very corny). Several times, other kids would come in and play while their parents were in there. My daughter and my son would play with them. They were really having fun playing with other kids who spoke English. Every few minutes they would announce to me that they had made a new friend.

After an hour or so, we headed back up to our B&B, which was called Crannaig House. It was set partway up a mountain, and had forest all around. We checked in and then went downstairs to chat with the owner. We sat together in a living area and the kids played with toys. There was a fire going in the fireplace, and the atmosphere was very nice. Since it was raining outside, we talked to the owner for most of the afternoon. She told us about life in the area, and gave us a few recommendations on where to eat and what to see. We shared our impressions on the different nationalities of people. She was quick to point out that the British and Scottish are very different types. She eventually turned the conversation to WW II. Her father was a sailor, and had been killed in the war by a German submarine. It was very interesting to hear her discuss the effects of the war in that area. She talked about different towns being bombed, and families that were affected.

We hadn’t eaten lunch, so at about 5 p.m. we walked down to the town center (the rain had stopped) and ate at one of the restaurants. We were almost completely alone in there. The food was pretty bland (I had fish and chips), which is what I had experienced previously in London. By the time we finished eating, we were all really exhausted. We walked back up the hill to our B&B. By that time, some of the clouds had lifted and we could see lots of mountains in the distance. After my wife and the kids went upstairs, I stood around outside for a while and enjoyed the view. In the distance I could see Ben Lomond, which is the largest mountain in the area. After a while though, the long day started to take it’s toll on me and went inside. We all turned in by 9 p.m.

Day 2, Sunday, October 8, 2000 – My son was awake at 5:45 a.m. He was still operating on German time, which is one hour later. He came over to my bed and told me that he wasn’t tired, but it was still dark outside. He asked me why the night was long. He was suffering from minor jetlag. In December, when we are back in the U.S., I worry that he will wake up around 1 a.m. and feel like it is time to be up.

I took my son out of the bedroom, and took him into the bathroom with me while I took a shower. After that, we went downstairs before anyone else in the house got up. I let him play with the toys while I watched the news on TV. About 6:30, the owner came in and asked what we would like for breakfast. Breakfast was definitely an experience in Scotland. It usually consisted of eggs, sausage, ham (they called it bacon), toast, tomatoes, mushrooms, beans, etc. My son ate cereal and about 10 little sausages. After a while, my wife, my daughter, and the rest of the guests came down. The other guests consisted of 4 Scots and 2 British people. My son and I were still in the room, and we visited with the other guests. They asked lots of questions about our travels. My son told me that it was really nice that the other guests could speak a “little” English.

Today we were going to start off the day with a scenic drive through a mountain pass. We would end our drive in Callendar, where the Rob Roy Visitor Center was located. When we went outside, it looked like it had been raining all night, but it was tapering off. We left Aberfoyle and climbed into the mountains. The scenery really improved as we climbed. We were practically alone on the road. As we climbed, the colors of the leaves began to change from green at lower elevations to reds, oranges, yellows, and browns at the higher elevations. Also, not only were the leaves changing colors, but the ferns and heather, which were practically everywhere, were red and brown.

At one point, we came to a valley that had a very impressive view. We saw a castle of gray stone across a lake, and pulled off at the side of the road to take pictures. In front of us, was a field of horses, then the lake, and the castle at the other side. Behind us was another field that was full of sheep, and then a mountain behind the field. As we were taking some video, a young horse came over to the fence. The kids really enjoyed petting him. I decided to take a picture of everyone standing there with the horse. I took one picture, and was preparing to take another. My son was wearing a coat, and as he stood up against the fence the horse leaned over and took my son’s hood into his mouth. The only thing I could figure out was that maybe the horse thought it looked like a feed bag. The horse actually lifted my son off the ground. He was scared and yelling, and my wife was trying to get the horse to turn loose. I found the scene pretty comical, and I actually snapped a picture of him when the horse had the hood in his mouth. The horse finally turned loose, and we drove on down the road. In hindsight, I guess it was a dangerous situation, but at the time is seemed pretty funny.

We stopped a little later at a mountainside lake (or, as the Scots say, a Loch). There was a steamboat on the lake that was available for taking a cruise. There was a little shop there, and my wife bought a few things while the kids and I had some ice cream outside. It was very cold out there.

We left and continued into Callendar. Inside the Rob Roy center there was an exhibition on Rob Roy’s life (I wish I had seen the Rob Roy movie before we went!). In the first room, there was a nighttime campfire scene that showed Rob Roy talking to a friend about his life. The display was incredibly realistic. I think it scared the kids a little, because it was dark in there and just a little spooky. There were a number of other displays about various aspects of his life. I also watched a video while the kids played in a ball pit.

At Rob Roy's Grave

After being in there for an hour or so, we left and headed towards Stirling. Stirling is famous as the site of the major battle depicted in “Braveheart.” There are a number of attractions in Stirling related to the battle, as well as a very impressive castle. We planned to go first to the Wallace Monument, which is a memorial to William Wallace (Mel Gibson’s character in “Braveheart”). If we had time, we were going to visit the castle afterward.

After stopping for a quick lunch at McDonald’s, we made our way to the monument. The monument was on top of a huge hill. At the base of the hill was a visitor’s center, as well as a statue of Mel Gibson. We bought tickets for the monument and then rode a bus up to the top. On the way up the hill, we passed a man at the side of the road dressed in a kilt and playing bagpipes. When we got to the top, we started climbing the monument. The monument itself is 220 feet tall, and there are 246 steps leading to the top.

On the way up, there were 4 rooms at different levels to stop off in and rest. Some of these rooms contained artifacts from Wallace’s life, one of which was his sword. How he used that thing I have no idea, because it was about 6 feet long. We finally got to the top, and had a great view over Stirling. We could see the battlefield in front of us, with the River Forth in front of it. We also had a great view of the Stirling Castle from where we were, and there were mountains and green fields full of sheep in every direction. The clouds had mostly disappeared, but the wind was blowing and it was cold up there. We stayed up until we were just about frozen, and then descended.

When we got to the bottom, we got a certificate for the kids saying that they had climbed the monument. We went out and waited for the bus for about 20 minutes, but then we finally decided to go ahead and walk down. We stopped and watched the guy play bagpipes for a few minutes. He was raising money for cancer, and my son and I gave him a little bit. As we continued down the hill, my son tripped and immediately blamed me. He flew off the handle and started yelling and screaming. We had thought about touring the castle, but we could tell from my son’s fit that he was really tired. My daughter was tired too, so we decided to skip the castle. My wife bought some toffee and fudge at the visitor’s center (it was fabulous!) and then we drove back as the kids slept.

When we got back into Aberfoyle, we drove back to the tourist center so the kids could play in the bus. They had been begging to go all day long. As we were heading inside, I saw a woman in her 50’s with a double earring through her eyebrow. We let the kids play for a while, and then went to a restaurant next door and ate. Again, the food was less than impressive. I should mention one of the specialties of Scotland, called haggis. This is the heart, lungs, liver, etc. of a sheep, stuffed into the stomach and boiled. It is supposed to be a delicacy, but I resisted the temptation to have any.

Day 3, Monday, October 9, 2000 – I woke up at 5:15, and slipped to the bathroom and took a shower. My son woke up when I came back into the room, so we went downstairs to play. Once again, my son and I ate before the other guests came down. My wife and my daughter slept until 7:30. We visited with the guests again during breakfast. There had been an LPGA golf tournament in town, and most of the guests were there for it. It was the U.S. against the Europeans, with the Europeans winning a close match.

Our plan for the day was to drive Fort William, which is at the foot of Ben Nevis, the highest mountain in Britain. We left the B&B about 9:30. It had cost 120 pounds for 2 nights, which is about $180. I thought that was a little too much for a B&B, but it was a really nice place. When we started off, there was a light rain coming down. About an hour into our drive, we took a detour and visited Rob Roy’s grave. The countryside around the area was beautiful. The mountains were really tall, and they were covered with colorful foliage. Rob Roy’s grave was outside a small country church. There were also graves of his family members. We were the only people there, and we took our time looking around. There was a nature walk behind the church that led into the woods and ended up at a waterfall. We spent almost an hour there before continuing on toward Fort William.

We passed through some really beautiful country as we got closer to Fort William. We drove through a valley called Glen Coe, and it was just stunning. The hills were all covered with red ferns and heather. I wanted to stop and explore, but the kids had just fallen asleep. I didn’t realize there was such natural beauty anywhere in Great Britain. This scenery was among the most impressive we had seen in all of Europe.

When we got into Fort William about 1 p.m., we spotted a McDonald’s. As we pulled in to eat, we saw a Celtic restaurant next door and we decided to try that out. The food was good, but it took us a really long time to get served. I wished later that we had just gone with our first instincts, because I hated to waste so much time sitting in a restaurant. After eating we went next door to a Safeway, and stocked up on a few items. They had Michael Crichton’s new book, Timeline, on sale. I bought it to read in the evenings and on the airplane ride back home.

Next, we had to find a room for the night. We drove downtown to the tourist information center and booked a room right outside town for the night. After we booked the room, we shopped a little bit. My wife bought shoes for the kids, and a woolen shawl for herself. We also picked up a family crest (McCarter) for my sister and brother-in-law. The area that we shopped in was along a pedestrian walkway. We found it very charming. It reminded us of the Christmas season. The weather was cold and the sky was overcast with an occasional raindrop. I could just imagine what the area looks like at Christmas.

About 5 p.m. it started raining and we drove out to our B&B, called Thistle Cottage. We visited with the owner for a while. She was a very pleasant older lady. We had a very nice view of the mountains right out the window. The kids had bunk beds in the room, but the top bunk had no guardrail. So, we dragged the mattress off into the floor for my daughter. It was still early, but it had started raining pretty hard. I started reading my book, and the others watched TV. There was a show on called “The Weakest Link”, and my daughter just loves it. It is similar to Jeopardy, but much more entertaining. After each round the candidates vote each other off until 2 (out of 8) remain. After watching TV for a while, they all went on to bed. However, I had gotten really interested in my book and stayed up reading until about 11 p.m.

Day 4, Tuesday, October 10, 2000 – The kids slept a little later this morning. I woke up early and took a shower, but the kids and my wife slept until about 7:30. My son woke up mad because he had fallen asleep next to me, but then I moved him over to the lower bunk. He remembered that he had started the night next to me and asked why I had moved him. He had also woken up during the night without his covers, and said (loudly), “Dad, my covers are gone. There is no sign of them anywhere.”

I walked into the breakfast room with the kids, where we had a great view of the mountains. To our surprise, during the night the mountains had become covered with snow at the higher elevations. We walked outside to have a better look. Our plans for the morning were to take a cable car up the mountain, and I was hoping we could get to the snow.

Breakfast was great – similar to our first B&B. We paid for the night (50 pounds) and drove up to where the cable car was. We got there about 9:15. We had been told that it opened at 9, but it actually opened up at 10. So, we walked around for a while and killed time until the ticket office finally opened up. We got our tickets just as a tour bus full of people pulled up.

We shared our car with one other person, and took a 10-minute ride up to the top. Actually, the car stopped well short of the top. Where the cable car stopped there was a restaurant and a ski shop. It was very cold up there, but the snow was at least 500 feet higher. We took several pictures, and then the kids and I went on a hike while my wife shopped. My son was dressed a little warmer than my daughter, so I let her wear my jacket over her coat. The sleeves were too long, so they covered her hands like gloves.

The walk was very nice. All of the vivid fall colors were all around us, and at slightly higher elevations snow covered the mountain. We walked along a path until we reached a scenic lookout point. We could see Fort William below us, and to our left we could see down a deep valley with high mountains on either side. There were also a couple of lakes in the distance. We messed around at the lookout for a few minutes before starting back. We encountered a lot of hills on the walk, and my daughter got tired. She had to ride on my back for a good part of the way back. This pleased my son immensely, because he is usually the one that needs to be carried. My daughter was really upset because she was tired and my son wasn’t. I asked him if he was tired too, and he said “No”, and started running up ahead. I kept telling him to stop, because I was afraid he would fall on the rocks. Well, of course he did fall, and he screamed bloody murder. He was screaming so loud that I was afraid that he broke something. I got to him as quickly as I could (with my daughter still on my back). I finally got him calmed down, and we walked back to the lift area.

As we approached, we saw my wife looking out the window of the restaurant. When we got there, she told us that she had gone looking for us. There were two different walks, and she thought that we would have taken the shorter one. So, she took the short one, and panicked when we weren’t at the end of it. She had to rush back to make sure that she was there when we returned. We decided to eat at the restaurant. A British man sat near us and talked to us about traveling. He was on an organized tour, and asked us questions about our travels. He told the kids how lucky they were that their parents had so much money that they could travel all over Europe. Little did he know that we were probably traveling for a fraction of the price he was spending for his organized tour.

We finished lunch and then rode the cable car back down the mountain. We got back in our car and started toward the northwest, on our way toward Kyle of Lochalsh. We weren’t sure how much territory we would cover before stopping for the night. We drove through more beautiful valleys. The roads were pretty lonely; sometimes we would drive for half an hour and not see anyone else. We drove past tall mountains, sweeping valleys, lakes, and rivers. The country was really remote. Our friend Kelly Hewlett had described this drive as reminding her of Montana. I would agree with that description. This was really wild, rugged, and remote country.

The kids slept through most of the drive. We finally came upon the most photographed castle in Scotland, Eilean Donan Castle. We stopped to take a few photos. The kids woke up when we stopped, and we all went into the visitor’s center for a while. We continued on the way toward Kyle of Lochalsh, but we turned back inland before we got into the city. We didn’t actually intend to visit the city, but the road we wanted to take was near there.

I had only thought we were off the tourist path before. After turning inland there was literally no traffic at all. It was pretty rainy, and the road twisted and turned. The road was actually only one lane for very long stretches. Once we drove about 20 miles on a one-lane road. Every half mile or so, there would be a wide spot in the road to pass.

We eventually came to Achnasheen, the town that I thought we would spend the night in. It was still raining hard when we drove into town. It was literally a ghost town, but we did find a small craft shop that was open. My wife went inside to look around and ask whether a B&B was available. My wife had been in the store for about 10 minutes when a tour bus pulled up. The tourists flooded the little shop, and my wife came back outside. She said that she had planned to buy some things, but the tourists who came in were pretty rude. She said that she was talking to the owner, and they crowded around and were very pushy. So, she came back outside.

The owner had told her that there were no B&B’s in town, but there was one about 5 miles farther down the road. We stopped in at that B&B, which also had an attached restaurant. The guy working there was very friendly. There was something wrong with his vision, though. When he talked to me, he focused on a spot about 2 feet from me. I thought he was blind at first, but then I saw him write something down. He checked and said that he didn’t have a family room available, but there was one just a few miles farther down the road.

We stopped at the next B&B, and they did have a family room. The room was basically just a spare bedroom in their house. The B&B was called Mossford Cottage, and it looked out directly over Loch Luichart. The owners were Seamus and Sarah Doyle, but we only saw Seamus. My wife went in to the kitchen and asked him a question, and there was another man in there cooking. My wife thought that maybe Seamus was gay.

Seamus recommended that we eat back at the first B&B we stopped at. So, we drove back to the restaurant, first stopping at a woolen shop and buying a couple more items. The same guy waited on us that I had spoken with earlier. We were totally alone in the place. The food was really good, except for my daughter’s cheeseburger, which was disgusting. I had shrimp scampi and elderberry ale. The scampi was unlike scampi in the U.S. It was basically just chopped up shrimp cooked in batter. The restaurant, like our B&B, was right off the main road in the absolute middle of nowhere. There were no towns nearby. While we were eating, we saw 7 Red Deer out the window. I took the kids outside to have a closer look. The guy inside warned us to not get too close, because it was mating season and they are dangerous during that period. Some of them were making a call that sounded similar to a cow. We watched them for a few minutes, and then went back inside and finished eating.

On the way back to our B&B, my wife and I talked about how nice the Scots were. On our entire trip, the hospitality of the Scots was really outstanding. As we were discussing this, I saw a deer start to run across the road. I slammed on the brakes, but the deer had second thoughts and didn’t cross the road. If it had, I would have hit it.

When we got back, we decided to bathe the kids before bed. At that point, we found out that the water was brown. It looked basically like weak tea. I have no idea what the reason was, but it was the same coming from every faucet. When we took the kids out of the tub, I felt like they were cleaner before their bath.

Day 5, Wednesday, October 11, 2000 – I woke up and had a bath in the brown water. Not only was the water brown, but there was no shower, and the hot and cold water came out of different taps. This made it almost impossible to rinse off. Anyway, I survived the bath. We had another great breakfast. I really liked the breakfasts while we were there, but they weren’t very healthy. There was a pretty big dose of grease in every breakfast. In fact, the Scots have one of the highest rates of heart disease in the world. I can see why. Seamus and I talked about the stock market and about business in general as we ate. He had a really good knowledge of the market.

We visited with Seamus about our plans for the day. His wife, Sarah, also made an appearance. So, he wasn’t gay after all. They had an aquarium in the house that really fascinated the kids. They also had a corn snake in the house. They showed the kids and told them that the snake had come all the way from America. I told him that I also used to keep snakes in the house when I was younger. My son and my daughter were surprised to hear this, and asked why my mom let me do such a thing. In the same room with the snake, they had family pictures covering every wall. That is something I had noticed at all of the places we stayed at. There were always huge numbers of family photos plastered all over the walls.

We discussed our plans with Seamus before we left. We were about to drive to Loch Ness, so he told us the best way to go. The kids were very excited about hunting for the Loch Ness Monster. We paid 50 pounds for the room, and then headed out.

As we drove, I noticed the enormous numbers of sheep grazing everywhere. We didn’t see that many cattle, but the sheep were literally everywhere. That seems to be a pattern all over Europe, but I have never figured out why. I also noticed a bird that I had never seen before. It appeared to be a crow, with black wings and a black head, but a light gray body. I saw several of those as we drove.

The highway signs were not very clear, and many of the towns were not even on the map. We made two wrong turns, and took a very roundabout way to Loch Ness. The drive was very nice, though, and it put us even farther off the tourist path. We finally pulled into Drumnadrochit, near the edge of Loch Ness about 11 a.m. The town had a Loch Ness Visitor Center and numerous tourist shops. Initially, we passed through the town and drove directly to the lake. While there was a pretty interesting looking castle right by the water, the lake itself was not very interesting. The surrounding mountains were lower and less colorful than we had been seeing. The lake did have quite a few people out taking boat trips, though. But, I wasn’t about to waste our time doing that. I never saw the monster, but my daughter said she was pretty sure she saw something out there on the water. She wasn’t sure what it was, but she thought it had humps on its back. :-)

We went to a souvenir shop back in town for a while. My wife bought a few things inside, and I played outside with the kids. There was a huge replica of Nessie outside, and the kids played on it. But, my son got a little bit out of hand at one point, and I dragged him kicking and screaming back to the car. He threw his fit, as people walked by the car and stared. But, after he got that out of his system, he returned to his normal self.

We left and headed toward Inverness, toward the East Coast. We had told the kids we would find a McDonald’s for them, and Inverness was a pretty big city. On the way, we drove alongside the length of Loch Ness. We stopped again for a few more photos. Inverness was a short drive away, and we arrived about 12:30 and started our search. After having no luck, we stopped at a gas station and asked if there was one nearby. We found the location of one, but there was no parking anywhere near it.

We finally found a parking garage about 5 blocks away. On the walk from the garage, we walked past a cinema. Disney’s Dinosaur was scheduled to play at 1:55. It was now 1:30. The kids wanted to see the movie, so we decided to try to make it. The lines had been very long at McDonald’s, so we dropped into a pizza place. We had the buffet, which was awful, and ran back to the theater.

We got into the movie just as it was starting. The volume on the movie was incredibly loud. I needed a pair of earplugs. I hadn’t been seated for long when everyone announced that they wanted snacks. So, I went out and got snacks for everyone. The one part that I was looking forward to in the movie was seeing the special effects when the asteroid hit the earth. Unfortunately, that happened while I was out in the lobby. My wife said it was awesome, though. I will have to take her word for it.

My daughter wasn’t happy with the snack that I got for her, so I had to go back out in the lobby with her to pick out another. All together I missed a good 15 minutes of the movie. My son complained all the way through the movie. He couldn’t wait for it to be over. I didn’t understand what his problem was, but we found out later that the movie scared him a little.

After the movie, we continued on toward Aberdeen, which is on the East Coast. We drove right along the coast for about an hour. It was raining pretty hard, and everyone fell asleep. We passed a large number of whiskey distilleries, as well as a fair number of castles. We also passed a few bicyclists. I can’t imagine how crazy they must have been. The roads were very narrow, and there was no shoulder. Riding a bike in Scotland looked to me like a very dangerous proposition. I wanted to find a nice little coastal town to stop in for the night. We finally came into a little town called Cullen. I knew this is where I wanted to spend the night. It was a very small town, and it was clustered around a rocky beach. It looked like a postcard to me.

So, with everyone else still sleeping, I started driving down the narrow streets. I saw a sign at one house that said B&B. I stopped and talked to a woman, and she had two rooms available. There were twin beds upstairs and a queen-sized bed downstairs. The rooms were really nice. But, I didn’t really like the thought of us being split up, so she recommended another place down the street. I went and talked to this woman, who invited me in. She was an older woman, and her looks reminded me of my grandmother (except for a large blue mole on her face). She also had 2 rooms available, but the setup was even worse than the first rooms I looked at. She told me that because the town was so small, there wasn’t much to choose from. But, she got on the phone and called around to try and find something for us. She said that there was a hotel just around the corner that might have something. So, we drove down to check it out. She looked out as we were leaving and saw my wife and the kids. She said, “You really should have brought everyone inside with you.”

The situation at the hotel was not good. Once again, the rooms were split up. The walls were also thin, and directly outside was the main street through town. The owner told me that at about 4 a.m. we would start to hear the traffic outside. So, we went back and booked the rooms at the first place we had stopped at. My son and I took the upstairs room. As soon as we got unloaded, I took the kids out to the beach. There were a lot of rugged rocks sticking up out of the water, but the beach itself was mostly sand. I took a stick and wrote my son’s name in the sand. He got a big kick out of that.

There was no place in town to eat, so we went into a small grocery store and bought a few things. We went back to the hotel and snacked a little bit, and then my son and I retired to the upstairs bedroom. Outside the bedroom there was a bookshelf full of all different kinds of books. There were several science books for children, and I took them downstairs to my daughter. I got some illustrated books for my son to look at. We opened up the window so we could hear the waves crashing on the shore. Our room looked right out onto the beach, which was only about 50 feet away. We watched the waves come in for a long time. My son colored for a while, and then told me, “A few more pages, and I am finito.” I stayed awake reading my book for quite a while after he went to sleep.

Day 6, Thursday, October 12, 2000 – My son shook me awake at 6:30. The house was very quiet, so he climbed into bed with me and I read “Goldilocks and the Three Bears” to him. He kept saying, “Oh, Baby Bear is so cute.” After that, we looked out the window for a while longer. I must say that I really enjoyed that little town. Our room was fantastic, the view was incredible, and the atmosphere was really great. The only downside was that the woman who ran the place wasn’t as friendly as most of the others had been. She wasn’t unfriendly, she was just a little reserved.

We had another hearty breakfast, and then I took the kids out to the beach while my wife went to her room and wrote out postcards. It wasn’t raining, but it looked like it was about to start. It was cold and very windy. Despite that, the kids loved the beach. My son dug into the sand with a stick, and my daughter spent her time writing and drawing in the sand. I found a cluster of rocks right at the water’s edge, and there must have been a million clams and barnacles on and around the rocks. We all studied the clams, and then my son went back to digging. I helped my daughter with her writing. I wrote her name in 12-foot letters. An airplane probably could have seen it. We also drew enormous smiley faces and hearts. They didn’t want to leave, but it was starting to rain and we needed to move out.

I paid for our rooms (42 pounds all together, what a deal!) and we continued down the coast. I had read about an aquarium at a town just down the road. We decided to check it out. The drive to the town, Macduff, was right along the rocky coast. The view was really nice. We pulled into Macduff just before lunchtime. My wife wasn’t too interested, so I took the kids in. It was pretty neat. It featured marine animals native to that area. There was a tank with a couple of octopus, and another full of crabs. There was also a petting tank, where the kids got to touch and pick up starfish, hermit crabs, anemones, and sea urchins. The kids really enjoyed themselves in there, except at one point when we watched a film. “Boring”, my son said.

It was lunchtime, and we had been promising the kids McDonald’s for several days. We were told that the closest one was in Aberdeen, which was about an hour away. We wouldn’t get there until 1:30, but we decided to go ahead and wait until then for lunch. We turned away from the coast and proceeded cross-country to Aberdeen. At times, we would get behind a tractor and be unable to pass. There was lots of farm traffic along the road. The kids fell asleep, and just as we pulled into Aberdeen I saw the McDonald’s. We pulled in there and had a long, leisurely lunch. I don’t know how old you have to be to legally work in Scotland, but the guy that took our order couldn’t have been over 12 years old.

After we ate, we headed west. We were going to drive along a very scenic drive while working our back toward Edinburgh. Balmoral Castle, the Scottish home of the royal family, is along this drive. They picked the location for the scenic beauty of the area. Any time you see Prince Charles on TV wearing a kilt, he is at Balmoral.

The drive started out pretty dull. It was raining steadily. The area immediately west of Aberdeen was not that pretty. We entertained ourselves by singing nursery rhymes and saying tongue twisters. Pretty soon, we started to pass some castles and the scenery turned prettier. There were more hills in the area, and lots of trees. There were a lot more hardwoods in the area, and the colors of the leaves were really vivid.

We pulled over and stopped at a tourist information center in Crathie. We visited with the guy working there for a while. He told us that Balmoral Castle was only about half a mile away through the trees, but it was not open for visitors. He said that the queen had been there on Monday, and that Prince Charles and the Queen Mother were still there. The church that they attended while at Balmoral was directly across the street, and he suggested that it would be worth a visit. He also said that when we were leaving there was a spot along the road where we could catch a glimpse of the castle.

We went over to the church and went inside. It was still raining, and very cold. There was a woman inside tending the church and selling bookmarks with religious themes. My wife bought a few. We only stayed there for a few minutes before continuing. When we got to the spot in the road where the castle was supposed to be visible, we looked but couldn’t see it. So, we went back down the road and turned around and came back. This time, we spotted it in the distance. It was really pretty. I wish we could have gotten closer.

It was almost 5 p.m. when we pulled into Braemar, the next town down the road. We immediately went down to the tourist information center and booked a room for the night. Our room was in an old hunting lodge. The surroundings were magnificent. There were mountains all around, and Braemar itself was a very scenic little town. When we walked into the lodge, there were hunting clothes drying out in front of a fireplace. There were guys in hunting clothes standing around talking. I asked the woman at the front desk about this, and she said that it was deer season. The whole scene reminded me of being back home.

We had passed a little takeout joint down the road, and we went back there to eat. On the way out, the kids noticed a little dog that the owners had. A cow had kicked it when it was a pup, and its back was severely twisted out of shape. The kids really enjoyed petting that dog. Every chance they got while we were there, they wanted to pet the dog.

We drove back through the town to the takeout place. The inside was really small. There was one little table inside with 4 chairs, so we stayed inside and ate. We talked to the guy working there, as well as a bus driver who had come by to eat. These guys were both super-friendly. We talked a lot about travel. The bus driver had been to the U.S., and we talked a little bit about that. The guy behind the counter had bagpipe music playing on the stereo while we ate. It was cold, dark, and rainy outside, but we were all very cozy inside. The atmosphere, the music, and the conversation all combined to make it one of my most enjoyable meals in Scotland.

We went back to the lodge, and the kids once again had to pet the dog for a while. We went upstairs and played with the kids, then watched the Weakest Link again, and finally put the kids to bed. After they were asleep, I turned on the evening news. There had been a terrorist attack on a U.S. ship, 2 Israeli soldiers had been lynched and there was a scene of the Arabs tossing the body out the window, and the stock market was crashing. I wondered what was wrong with the world. Downstairs, the hunters were having a good time and being pretty loud. They stayed up pretty late. That, combined with the news, kept me awake until after midnight.

Day 7, Friday, October 13, 2000 – We got up and went down to breakfast at about 8. The kids again pet the dog for a long time before we went in to eat breakfast. I was very surprised to see that there were several hunters in there eating breakfast. I would have assumed that they would be out hunting by now. We ate another standard Scottish breakfast, and then went back upstairs. My wife wanted to shop in town for a while, so I watched cartoons with the kids for an hour while my wife shopped. At 10, the kids and I paid for the room (45 pounds) and met my wife downtown. First, we mailed off our postcards. We had to mail them inside a small grocery store, and I saw some newspapers showing some of the scenes from yesterday. There were Palestinians tossing an Israeli soldier’s body out the window, and another picture showing a young Palestinian holding up bloody hands to the crowd. We left the store and we all walked around a little bit exploring the town. There was a bridge in the center of town, and there was a waterfall upstream from it. The river was flowing swiftly over the rocks, and ran right through the town.

It was finally time to head toward Edinburgh. We drove west from Braemar, through more incredible scenery. We actually stopped a couple of times just to enjoy the view. As we started to descend from the highlands, the hills became lower and lower, but the road began to wind more. My wife started to get sick due to all the twists and turns. The sun was shining brightly, and it kept flashing intermittently through the branches above. That made it really hard to see.

Around lunchtime, we searched and searched for a place to eat. We drove around in Perth for half an hour looking for a restaurant. We finally found one, but every single parking place in the parking lot was occupied. So, we continued. We pulled over later in a little town and found nothing. We went into one place, and a woman working there told us that there was a Burger King about 5 miles down the road. We found it and had a leisurely lunch outside on a picnic table.

Before driving into Edinburgh, we drove across a long bridge. It reminded me of the Golden Gate Bridge, as well as a similar long bridge outside Lisbon, Portugal. We arrived in Edinburgh in the early afternoon. We were going to try to visit a museum that I had read about. It was called Our Dynamic Earth, and had a number of theme rooms for kids based on subjects such as volcanoes, the Antarctic, and dinosaurs. After driving around for a while, we finally located it.

I was really impressed with the museum. The kids loved it. We started out onboard a "time machine", which carried us back in time 15 billion years. We witnessed the big bang and the formation of galaxies and solar systems. We left the time machine and entered a room based on the primitive earth. The first room was based on volcanoes, and it was complete with huge video displays. There were sound effects and lots of items in each room based on that particular theme. It was sort of like a walk through an IMAX movie. One of the rooms was about glaciers, another was about undersea life, and a third was about the rain forests. Being inside the rain forest room felt like actually standing in a rain forest. In the Antarctic room, they actually had a miniature glacier in the center of the room. It was about 6 feet tall and 15 feet long, and was actually made out of ice. We finally ended up in the evolution room, which had all kinds of displays on prehistoric life.

After spending a couple of hours in the museum, we were ready to call it a day. We went downtown to book a room at tourist information. While I waited in line, my wife and the kids walked across the street to the Disney Store. A woman at tourist information called a couple of places for me before we found what we were looking for. We had been paying 40-50 pounds a night for the most part, but this one cost us 60. They actually wanted 70, but she got them to come down 10 pounds.

We ate at a McDonald’s just around the corner from the Disney Store. We left the center of town and headed toward the outskirts, where our B&B was located. We drove by it several times before we spotted it. From the outside, I was not impressed. We appeared to be in a low-income area of Edinburgh. There were signs posted outside warning of problems with theft. We didn’t see any Scottish people on the streets at all; everyone seemed to be immigrants. There were Asians, Africans, Arabs, and Indians. The owner of our B&B was an Indian. He showed us to our room, and it was a dump. The places that we had stayed at in the countryside, for much less money, were all nicer than this. Also, for the first time on the trip we were asked to pay for the room in advance.

There were bunk beds in the room, but the top bunk had no guardrail. So, once again I had to pull the mattress off and put it in the floor for my daughter. Before going to bed, we repacked everything for the trip home. We stayed up pretty late, and before we went to bed I peeked out the window to make sure the car was still there.

Day 8, Saturday, October 14, 2000 – We woke up about 7 and finished packing up. I looked out the window, and for the first time since being in Scotland, there was not a cloud in the sky. We went down and had breakfast, and it was the worst breakfast that we had on the entire trip. The breakfast was paltry, and the mushrooms were from a can. They were cold and disgusting. We finished breakfast and left to go and tour the Edinburgh Castle.

We found a parking garage and walked a quarter of a mile up a hill to the entrance. The castle was built on top of the stump of an old volcano. It had steep cliffs on one side, and would have been very difficult to attack. We paid and went inside, where we received some earphones and a CD player so we could receive a guided tour. The way the CD player worked is that each time we came to a new section of the castle, there was a number associated with it. We could enter the number into the CD player and hear a narrative over that particular section. This system worked very well, and really helped bring the history of the castle alive for us. My son was not very impressed, but my daughter really liked it. We toured the defenses, the palace, the underground vaults, and the military prison. American prisoners from the War of Independence had been held in the prison over 200 years ago. We all found the castle thoroughly fascinating. Also, since the castle was up very high on the volcanic rock, we had a very good view for miles. We could see all of Edinburgh in front of us, and farther away the bay and the ocean. From that elevation it was really obvious that Edinburgh is in a really beautiful location, surrounded by hills.

We finally decided that we were running out of time, so we reluctantly left. My daughter really didn’t want to go, which is the first time she had ever acted like this way in a castle. That CD player had really helped her understand the things we were seeing. My son on the other hand, complained most of the way through and couldn’t wait to get out of there. At one point we were around a crowd of people, and he yelled, “I hate castles!” Everyone around started laughing.

We spent more time in the castle than we had intended. We had to head out to the airport by about 1, and it was 12 when we left the castle. We walked part of the way down the Royal Mile. The Royal Mile is a stretch of road built on top of an ancient lava flow, and runs between the castle and the Palace of Holyrood. This palace is the current royal residence in Edinburgh. My wife shopped a little and spent most of our remaining pounds, before we finally walked back to the car and headed to the airport.

We didn’t really have any problems finding our way out to the airport. Just as we pulled into the airport, I remembered that I had forgotten to fill the rental car up with gas. So, we had to drive back down the road about 3 miles to fill up. We finally got into the airport with less than an hour before our plane was scheduled to takeoff. We had a quick bite at the Burger King and then rushed to our gate just 20 minutes before takeoff. At that point, we found out that our plane was delayed by an hour.

Our flight home was uneventful, except that once again we had to deplane in Birmingham with all of our luggage only to get back on the same plane again. This was really irritating, because this time we didn’t even have to go through customs. We got off the plane with our luggage, hauled it up a flight of stairs, ran through a maze inside the airport, and then got right back on the plane. What this was supposed to accomplish, I have no idea.

We made it home (to a very cold house) the rest of the way without incident. The trip was great, despite the rain. We could have really used an extra day in Fort William, on the coast, and in Edinburgh. I was actually surprised at how beautiful Scotland was. I hadn’t imagined that a part of Great Britain had such large mountains.

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