ROBERT THE BRUCE

So sad. Our time in Scotland was quickly coming to an end.

The Robert the Bruce Memorial was the last stop of our tour.

Robert the Bruce is considered one of Scotland’s greatest kings. He led Scotland to its freedom during the Wars of Independence and saw Scotland finally become an independent country.  Robert the Bruce is a national hero and has the same distinction in Scotland as George Washington does in the States.

BRAVEHEART

You don’t need me to tell the story of Braveheart. (‘m William Wallace, and the rest of you will be spared. Go back to England and tell them… Scotland is free!)

William Wallace ( a Scottish knight) led a resistence during the Wars of Scottish Independence.  He defeated the English at the Battle of Stirling Bridge and was deemed the Guardian of Scotland – instantly becoming a national hero. A few years later, the English captured him near Glasgow and he was executed by King Edward I of England for treason.  But as we all know, what’s important is FREEDOM!

The Tower overlooks the Forth Valley and includes different floors of memorabilia. One of the floors is the Hall of Heroes which has busts of famous Scots including the three writers, James Watt (inventor of the steam engine); David Livingstone and John Knox among others. The entrance also has a Braveheart DVD continually running.

246 steps get you to the top – the steps weren’t bad, but the narrow spiral stairway could get you kind of dizzy both coming and going.

IONA

Yes, suddenly the sun was shining as we headed into Iona or at least sort of shining.

Iona is mostly known for it’s abbey, first built in 563 by St. Columba. (The modern Gaelic name for Iona is Icolmkill (phoneticlly) which means Iona of Columba.)

When Columba and his twelve friends landed here in 563, they were retreating from the Battle of Cul Dreimhne in Ireland. At that time Iona was part of the Irish kingdom.  The abby/monastery flourished and they used it as a base to convert people to Christianity.  Researchers have spent years defining what these original inhabitants believed and the conclusion is no one knows for sure.  One of their tenets seems to have been not recognizing the authority of the Pope and also establishing their own practices and traditions such as determining the date of an Easter celebration. Iona quickly became the center of Celtic Christianity and a known center for learning for Great Britain and Ireland.  It is said the Book of Kells  was at least partially (if not all) written on Iona.

Throughout history, Iona was often destroyed by the Vikings. Each time, the island once again flourished. After the Viking raid in 794, Iona lost prominence among the Irish, but now became a center of both spiritual and royal importance in Scotland. In fact, for a time, the Scottish kings were buried on the island.

We (in 2010)  didn’t have a lot of time on the island, so immediately we headed over to the abbey.

A man began giving us a tour, but I quickly became disappointed. Instead of giving us a good sense of the history, he emphasized that  today the abbey is ecumenical – that seemed to be the key factor. In fact, there are still regular services held weekly (or maybe it’s daily). Hymnbooks are in the pews (though a quick glance through did not yield any hymns I knew) and a bookcase included every version of “religious” book you could think of so everyone could worship as they wish.  Not being overly familiar with Iona, I wish we could’ve heard a clearer story of the background.

So we wandered away from the tour and headed back outside. RM and DG headed to a shore cafe and FG and I decided to look at some of the shops with unique Iona handiwork.  We both bought silver necklaces depicting symbols from the abbey.  We then wandered around some and stopped in a small grocery store to buy some crackers, cheese and fruit and went down to the shore to munch as we waited for the others to gather to catch the ferry back across the water.  Beautiful place and if I had had more time, I would’ve taken 1,000 pictures!  Alas… we were once again on a schedule.

KILT ROCK

In every place, where there is any thing worthy of observation, there should be a short printed directory for strangers.
James Boswell in The Journal of a Tour to the Hebrides 1773 (The Isle of Skye is in the north most Inner Hebrides)

I thought this sign was quite succinct.

Up the road from the Old Man of Storr is Kilt Rock. (Many people say that Skye is the most beautiful area in a beautiful country. I agree!) The Rock is named Kilt Rock because (drumroll!) it looks like the pleats of a kilt.  The observation point is also quite windy – in fact I have a picture of Me and Two of the Other Three looking like we are being blown off the observation point. They warned me against posting it – but not to worry – I don’t want it posted either. 🙂 The rock stands 200 feet above the sea (and during these past couple ninety degree plus days, I wish I were once again standing there!)  Notice that the sun was out and the sky at least somewhat blue at this point in the day.

This is a popular tourist spot and the observation area was crowded when we were there – so I did not get the clear picture of the waterfall (in the foreground) that I would’ve liked – but you can still see it.

ENJOY SOME SCOTTISH MUSIC

As we drove through Skye, Anne played us some Scottish music!

That was fun.

If you’d like to hear some of it, I found these three artists/groups on iTunes.

Karen Matheson.

Runrig (If you want to get just one of their songs, I would suggest the Hampden remix of Loch Lomand)

Red Hot Chilli Pipers. (Funny, hunh?) I would get their Flower of Scotland and Auld Lang Syne.

(SCOTLAND FACT: Scotland doesn’t really have a National Anthem, but Flower of Scotland is the song you hear played at sporting events, etc.)

(SCOTLAND FACT: You might wonder what they don’t adopt God Save the Queen. Hmmm … it might be that second verse which people DON’T sing anymore, but still … people remember it.

Lord grant that Marshal Wade

May by thy mighty aid

Victory bring.

May he sedition hush,

And like a torrent rush,

Rebellious Scots to crush.

God save the Queen!)

A WALK IN KYLEAKIN

The evening is late (probably about 9:30), but I am ready to experience Skye.

Instead of explaining a lot (I can do that on tomorrow night’s walk), I’m suggesting you imagine yourself walking down the street of Kyleakin. On one side is the water and the Skye Bridge and at the end of the walk is a pier and even more water.  The evening is chilly and cold and one by one, you lose your walking companions, but G from Boston has her camera and is willing to come with you (even though she’s wearing  flip flops). The air is between misty and rainy and the only sounds are from the sea gulls dive bombing for fish in the water.

The breeze gains strength and whips your hair in your face.

As the sun is setting, it appears and disappears in the clouds and streetlights blink on. As you near the harbor, you hear the mournful, but oddly symphonic sound of the wind playing the masts of the docked boats like so many out-of-tune violins.  You stand at the end of the dock and stare out over the water, at the distant hills and the castle on a cliff overlooking the town.

You are far away from the cares of the world. You want to remember the sounds, the sights and the mist on your face.

You wander past the otter statue and then back to warmth of the hotel. In the parlor, people are drinking tea and listening to Alex McPhee. (That has a nice rhythm to it – drink tea and listen to Alex McPhee.)

So imagine and enjoy …

URQUHART CASTLE

Another reason to visit Loch Ness is Urquhart Castle (that’s a tricky word to spell!).

Urquhart is one of the largest Scottish castles and was the scene of many battles spanning 500 years.

1. In 1250 A.D., Alan Durward was the Urquhart lord. Alan was the guy who told the king what to do and his castle was a prime factor in the Wars of Independence with England.

2. In 1296 – the English conquered the castle, but kept it for only two years before William Wallace (Bravehart) got it back again.

3. The castle ping-ponged back and forth for the next 50 years.

4. in 1509 The Clan Grant was granted the castle (hmmm .. Grant was granted the castle?)

5. In 1689, the government seized the castle during the Jacobite battles.

6. In 1691 the castle was blown up so it couldn’t be used by the Jacobites.

7. In 1703 the castle was used as a quarry.

8. The castle was never rebuilt and is now owned by Scotland’s Historic National Trust.

9. Urquhart is the third busiest tourist site in Scotland.

10. You can now get married there (due to a change in Scottish laws – though I’m not sure what that change is).

11. This is still in the area where the Loch Ness Monster has been spotted – however, I didn’t see him – not even the tacky, plastic Nessie prototype who posed for us at the pond.

The day we were there was beautiful with blue skies and sun reflecting off the water.  The visitor’s center has a DVD and then you wander around the grounds which are indeed, one of the most picturesque places I’ve been.  I walked with RM for awhile and then went off to take some pictures, eventually ending up in the gift shop. I walked over to the food area and to my surprise – they had bottles of Twinings Iced Tea! Not only real iced tea – but a brand I recognized. I immediately bought two bottles – then went back outside to meet RM at the top of the hill!  (We were both having iced tea withdrawal.)  That was the ONE time I had iced tea in Scotland. Which has nothing to do with Scottish history, but could be important information for any future iced-tea-loving tourists. (Just letting you know.)

LOCH NESS

When we think of Loch Ness, we think of monsters, but Loch Ness is so much more than that. A loch is a lake or a sea inlet.

Loch (Lake) Ness is 23 miles long, but the truly amazing fact (and this is where the monster comes in) is the depth. In some spots, Loch Ness is hundreds of feet deep – a fact that the Scots like to tell you: it’s deeper than the height of London’s BT Tower. Because of the peat levels in the area soil, the water is known for being murky. Undersea caverns have also been discovered and some think that the caverns connect it to the ocean. (Anne told us that most monster “sightings” have been in the area of the second picture.)

Loch Ness has more fresh water in its depth than all the lakes in England and Wales combined.

You could stack the world’s population in Loch Ness three times over.

So obviously, this is one big water-filled hole which inspires tales of unknown sea creatures.

But Loch Ness is also extremely beautiful, with the hills sloping down to the shore and castle ruins dotting the banks.