Youch , it was an early wakeup for the small people. Even my attempted Scottish accent was going to be feeling it. It is a hike from North Berwick to the Highlands.
We ran around trying to get the family up and dressed and pointed toward the door. Lisa had bought sausage rolls from Gregg’s (it’s their grab and go McDonald’s of snackeries) the day before for our breakfast on the fly. But we hightailed it down High Street to jump on the 6:07 AM train out of our hamlet of North Berwick.
We arrived into Edinburgh Waverly train station on time where we got to see the bleary early morning people from their rocking night before. One guy was sprawled out on a bench still wearing skeleton makeup. We had our own tired crew but the peeps were rallying.
To me as a tourist, Edinburgh is the Castle, Princes Street and the Royal Mile. We got to see parts of them as we dashed about for last minute coffees and water. We found our tour bus rendezvous point of Deacon Brodie’s Tavern and our fellow tour takers standing around outside glued to their coffees. A sign on the wall informed us that Robert Louis Stevenson had used this Deacon Brodie as the inspiration for Dr Jekyll & Mr Hyde. Deacon Brodie was an 18th century Edinburgh city councilor by day and a burglar by night. This was a few years before Edinburgh body snatchers made good money by providing specimens for anatomy study to the medical schools. The school did not ask enough questions and soon the snatchers went for greater efficiency and began to bring in freshly dead folks that had never seen a burial.
The tour bus swung by to pick us up and we were northbound for our tour of the Highlands, a Whiskey distillery and Loch Ness. I know what you’re thinking and I agree, whiskey distilleries are perfect for children.
Actually, it was going to be a Trip Advisor highly-rated, inexpensive tour of the Highlands. We’d booked with a company called The Hairy Coo, because well, why wouldn’t you?
Hairy Coos are highland cattle. Our guide points out the field along the road where Hamish, the Brad Pitt of Hairy Coos, draws in the tourists.
Duone castle. From Monty Pythons’ Holy Grail. This is where John Cleese taunted the French soldiers from the highest parapet. “Your mother was a hamster and your father smelt of elderberries!”
Plenty of Braveheart movie discussions. You’ve gotta talk William Wallace and Mel Gibson when you’re in Scotland. Several times people brought up this movie, and in England too.
Hollywood took some real artistic license with that movie. The Picts originally wore the “wode”—blue paint—when fighting the Romans. So when Mel is shown fighting with it, the producers are about 1000 years off. His love interest—the French princess—was actually about four years old at the time, so not so much on the romance in real life. The real battle was for Stirling Bridge which was the key to controlling Scotland at the time. But there’s no bridge in the movie. I could go on and on.
Our guide also noticed Lisa knitting the scarf and told us, at a break, how his mom had knitted him the very sweater he was wearing. And a cable-knit beauty it was too.
Next, the tour included a visit to the Deanston whiskey distillery. They held our family late, intending us for a second tour group but after a miscommunication ended up giving us a short, private tour. The distillery was featured in a movie “The Angel’s Share” and used to be a cotton mill.
[they age the whiskey in barrels from other distilleries, many of them, like this one, are from Jim Beam in the USA]
Kids started school in the mill school at age 5 and were working in the cotton mill by age 9. The child labor laws were that a child could work no more than 8 hours a day and that studies should make up at least 3 of those. Women and children were especially valued cotton mill workers for their small, dextrous hands. The cask room used to be where 500 people sat and weaved the cotton. The workers’ body heat was good for the cotton. Today, the cavernous room has strange things happen and our guide tells us they have ghosts in that room. Scotland feels like the kind of place where there is room for the mythical and the legendary.
The colors on the ceiling are called the “angels share” as it’s the spirits that have evaporated out of the barrels and gathered on the ceiling. The distillery “gives” them to the angels.
The tour got even better for our family when they refunded us the tour cost because we were so rushed. And Lisa and I still got to try a “wee dram” of tasty whiskey.
Of course, you know your kids have been to Scotland when they start building a whiskey distillery in Minecraft. Early submission for worst dad of the year award…?
Glencoe, oh Glencoe. Our guide says it with a tone of awe and dread and you can almost see his skin crawling.
The Jacobites had fought for the return of the Stuart line to the throne but their forces were soundly defeated at the 1690 Battle of Boyne in Ireland. Once this Jacobite uprising was put down, the Highlanders suffered at the hands of the English for being on the losing side. Late to make his newly required oath of fealty, the king made an example of the MacDonald patriarch. The clan was likely chosen because they did not have a fortress, their clan was divided between three towns and the king could leverage the ongoing feud between the Campbells and the MacDonalds. Approximately 120 redcoats were sent and shown hospitality by the MacDonald clan as Highland culture demanded. Even a few of their sworn enemies—the Campbells—were dressed as redcoats. The MacDonalds—across their three villages— put up all of these people for two weeks. Drinking, partying, playing cards and just plain hospitality were the order of the day. The redcoats were partly there to collect a tax on behalf of the king.
Then another captain from the king’s regiment brought the king’s orders from a Maj Duncanson. Copy of order to Capt. Campbell by Maj. Duncanson:
“You are hereby ordered to fall upon the rebells, the McDonalds of Glenco, and put all to the sword under seventy. you are to have a speciall care that the old Fox and his sones doe upon no account escape your hands, you are to secure all the avenues that no man escape. men finally read the orders sent form the king which told them to put men, women and children to the sword…”
Thus, in the brutal cold of a February 1692 evening the soldiers attacked and killed about 38 men, women and children in their homes or as they fled. They set fire to their homes and another forty men, women and children fled into the inhospitable Highland mountains and died overnight from exposure. A few Campbells and lieutenants warned their MacDonald hosts or broke their own swords rather than have to execute such a heinous act. Every year they still lay memorial wreaths and hold a ceremony to mark the treacherous Massacre at Glencoe.
A local hotel will still not allow anyone named Campbell to stay there. The story goes that a few years back an American country singer, Glen Campbell, of “Rhinestone Cowboy” fame was trying to stay there. The hotel owner had to come out to speak to him about the situation and the result even for that night—no Campbells allowed!
We were on the same Skyfall road that 007 drove. The tour bus was not quite as agile as his Aston Martin. But my Lisa puts all those Bond girls to shame!
Scotland and their recent vote against independence was on the drivers’ mind. Everyone had an opinion about how the older folks did not want to endanger their pensions and how certain political parties had worked to lower the voting age knowing that younger, more idealistic voters would vote for independence. It’s worth putting it up here…
Scotland had cut down most of their native trees from the first World War. Their native trees take 200 years to fully develop into ‘master’ forests. A committee was formed in 1919 to begin work on this problem. They selected trees like the Norwegian Spruce and a Japanese tree since they mature about 50 years quicker. Now they are going back and cutting down the non-native trees.
Of course, on those windy roads beside those gorgeous rivers, lochs and mountains you just hope that little tummies can hang in there. Sure enough, one person loses his cookies but is such a pro by now that no one knows. “Hey kids, how about some Dramamine!?”
We even dropped in to visit the impressive memorial to UK special forces troops. They train up here in the Highlands. The remembrance garden held notes and monuments to 90 year olds and even 23 year olds who had recently given the last full measure of devotion in Afghanistan.
There are over 31,000 lochs in Scotland and about four lakes. A loch is a Scottish or Irish Gaelic word for a lake. Loch Ness has, by far, the highest volume of any loch in Scotland. Loch Ness holds more water than all the lakes in England and Wales combined. It is shaped like a gigantic bathtub, with steep sides and even a flat bottom that slopes down one end (to a depth of 754 feet) as if towards a drain.
[A lock on the loch…]
We come to the spooky Loch Ness boat tour. We debated getting on the boat as it was cold and the rain was starting. The girls went to check on a petting zoo (that ended up being closed) and the boys and I joined the boat tour.
There is an abbey on the loch that used to be a fortress built to put down the Jacobites. The Jacobites attacked and had a lucky break when the first cannonball hit a powder magazine exploding part of the defenses of the castle.
The boat pulls out onto the dark water and everyone is snapping pictures and smiling.
After a while a crewman points out the monitors and people start to listen close. Quite a few there believe in Nessie. One monitor shows the sonar display from the boat’s signal
while the other displays the boat’s position over a GPS model of the bottom of the loch.
The sonar return on the screen is the temperature and current contrast where a river flows into the enormous loch but, aye, it looks like the terrible monster. The water is dark like oil from the peat that is suspended in the loch. It is said that light does not penetrate far into the murky waters.
Therefore, the water beneath the ‘thermocline’ does not warm much. Even a warm summer can only heat the upper ten meters up to a maximum about 59 degrees. It is said that people have discovered empty rowboats and their occupants never seen again. He explained how a friend sometimes scuba dives and will descend in Loch Ness by running his fingers down the side of the steep rock walls. If he lets go, he can’t see a thing. Makes you want to give it a try….
We kept our eyes peeled for Nessie the whole time, except for when we were staring at the snacks they were selling onboard. And when we were watching all the cool colors on the monitors or that one time when we were wrestling. But beside that, we were on the case. We don’t think we saw her, but when I checked my camera later, look what turned up.
Lisa, what’s that number for the National Enquirer again? Can I use your phone? They’ve still got my cell number blocked since last time…