Highland, Perth & Kinross, Stirling, Falkirk, West Lothian, Mid Lothian

We drove down from John O’Groats to the small fishing village called Wick in thick fog in the evening.   Arriving in fog it was difficult to get any impression of the place, we just found a suitable parking place and settled down for the night.  In the morning we found we had parked right beside a wide river on one side and an enclosed harbour on the other.  It was only a short walk into the centre of town so after breakfast we took a stroll.  

This street in Wick holds the Guinness World Record for the shortest street in the world. It has just the one building, on the corner of a triangle and is called Short St!

At the first corner Dennis stood and read a sign tacked to the side of a building.  While he was still reading a young lady came out of the building then quickly rushed back inside.  I had continued strolling up the road, waiting for Dennis to join me, instead when I turned around he was deep in conversation with a man and they both beckoned me back.   It turned out the sign was advertising a Christianity Explored evangelism course, to be held all that week in that building, which actually was a Church. We didn’t realise what it was at first as we had come along the path by the river and encountered the building from the back view, it just looked like a hall.  (We are familiar with this course as St Helen’s in London runs this programme regularly.)  We ended up joining the small group of Christians for a morning coffee, while they were waiting for the few people who said they were coming to start the course, but disappointingly they didn’t turn up.  It was a lovely welcome to Wick though, to spend time with this nice bunch of Christian people.  We had a very wide-ranging conversation about the general area, Wick in particular, the state of the nation and the state of the Church in the UK and NZ.

So many harbours along this east coast of Scotland have their own lifeboat

Tiny fishing boats, just enough room for one person in the cockpit

Wick had an interesting history.  The town was built from scratch as an industrial venture  with shareholders etc. with the famous  Thomas Telford as the architect. For many years it was renowned for its massive seasonal catches of herring which were truly astounding in volume, the record day was 25 million fish caught, gutted, salted and barreled.  They were then exported all around Europe as a valuable and relatively cheap source of protein.  This industry lasted about 150 years until, you guessed it, they were overfished and the industry died.  Now it is a pretty little tourist town and centre of a productive farming area.

Travelling down the east coast of Scotland was such a contrast from the scenery up the west coast.  The countryside was very lush and there were no rocks in sight.  Instead there were sizable stands of forests on the foothills of the many mountains, farmers were gathering in the hay, silage and crops as quickly as possible between showers of rain, lots of cattle farms and the towns were much closer together and much larger.

Beautiful setting for a home if a little close for comfort, no doubt erosion over the years has caught up with them

Just notice the communal washing line on the shore. I watched in amazement as two ladies arrived in a car and proceeded to hang up their washing! They then sat on the back ledge of their station wagon and made themselves a cuppa

We were so surprised to drive past two of these huge oil tanks

but driving alongside Cromarty Firth, just north of Inverness, we got our answer, two oil rigs working in the bay

Not a rock in sight down this coast, just very productive farms

Great bridges around here, this one over the Cromarty Firth

We arrived at Inverness in the early evening so we just took a quick tour in the van through the centre of town and then found a great place to park for the night beside a marina and overlooking the beautiful bridge over the Beauly Firth.  I find it strange to see that the canal flowing through the city is also called Caledonian Canal, yet it flows out of the east end of Loch Ness.  (It was in the Caledonian Canal at the west end of Loch Ness that we met Malcolm on his Baltic Trader) Inverness is the largest city this far north in Scotland and is a University town with crowds of young people on bicycles.   One interesting thing to note is that Inverness is one of the world’s largest seed potato production areas.  There were vast stretches of potato plants that had been mown to stop them flowering (this is to prevent cross-pollination), it looked quite odd really.

A topiary golfer welcomes you to Inverness, there are 23 golf courses around this area, not to mention St. Andrews just a short distance away!

Our resting place for the night had a great view

Dennis was very keen to get to Culloden, about 8 kms out of Inverness.  Once again he knew all the history surrounding the Battle of Culloden but it was all new to me!  We got there nice and early with the intention of beating the crowds.    I noted that they had a cafe with free WiFi so I reassured Dennis that he could take as long as he needed and he could find me in the cafe uploading photos onto my blog.  It took me one hour to walk through the exhibits in the Visitor Centre and I stopped to watch the many films and listen to the various actors relating the story of the Battle of Culloden.  I decided that my time was too valuable to be traipsing around outside as well, in the misty rain, so off I went to the cafe.  Looking through the large picture windows out onto part of the battleground was especially poignant when the low cloud closed in several times, it did reinforce my decision about sitting in comfort with a coffee though.  Five hours later Dennis joined me with a couple of books tucked under his arm, so happy with his day!    Absolute bliss!  I did agree with him that this Visitor Centre was the most comprehensive we have been to yet.  The story is a complicated one of the English King, the French connection and the Scottish people.  I won’t bore you with the details, anyway I’m that confused again, but basically it is when Scotland became part of the United Kingdom once and for all.   Interestingly, the Scottish Premier has just won a vote in the British Parliament to hold a referendum in 2014 asking whether Scottish people would like to become independent!

A cottage in the middle of the battlefield

For all the blood shed on this ground there’s not much left to show for it

The next thing on Dennis’ must-do list was visit Stirling.  This is quite a drive from Culloden, maybe 120kms and inland from Edinburgh.  We had been invited to attend the baptism of Evelyn MacDonald on the following Sunday which meant we had a firm date we needed to be in Edinburgh by.   Added to that, Esther and Seth de Rues were flying out to Amsterdam during that week and we were keen to spend some more time with them, as it will be the last time while we are in the Northern Hemisphere.  As a consequence we travelled inland to Stirling and missed a great chunk of Scotland around Aberdeen and right down to Dundee.  Nevermind, sometimes you have to make tough choices!  What beautiful scenery all the way down, though.  We were travelling through the Grampian Mountains, with pretty rivers and lochs in the valleys.  Saw red grouse flying, too slow with my camera of course.  The pink heather was blooming everywhere, apparently there are two species and the pink one has the less showy display though it was beautiful and very Scottish.  This area is a National Park  and it reminded us of NZ, tall mountains, forested slopes and dairy farms on the flats.

There are so many distilleries all down the eastern coast and  further inland

Such beautiful little towns in the Loch Lomond & the Trossachs National Park

The reason Dennis wanted to stop in Stirling was the Wallace Memorial.   Once I saw the price of entry I decided I wanted to clean the van instead!  Perhaps it was one history lesson too many?  Or my frugal nature?  Never-the-less, Dennis was very happy with the display and in particular the actors who portrayed the trial of Wallace, they used the actual transcript and really brought the story to life.  Those of you who saw the Braveheart film some years back will be happy to know that the story was fairly accurate.

Impressive monument to William Wallace

Listening to actors always makes the story come to life

I love all the details stone masons adorn their buildings with

The famous sword is 5 1/2 feet long

Looking over Stirling, from top of monument

We arrived in Edinburgh in bright sunshine and it continued to shine for the five days we were there.  What a difference to last time!  We spent Christmas 2011 with Esther, Seth and his then heavily pregnant sister, Rebecca and Tim, her husband.  I remember that the weather was bitterly cold then and everything about Edinburgh was grey, grey, grey!  Grey stone buildings, grey wet pavements and grey, wet skies!  The impression we had then of this city was bleak but this time everything was so different, beautiful impressive buildings, happy people and lovely blue skies. 

Walking back the hill from Edinburgh to Leith on a balmy evening, taken at 8.45p.m.

One thing that hadn’t changed was the beggars!  They are on every corner, sitting cross-legged on the pavement with a paper coffee cup in hand, shaking it limply asking for loose change.  We got to the stage we could recognise some of them, on a circuit of street corners around Edinburgh, it’s like musical chairs without the music and without the chairs!  The locals tell us they are East Europeans (read Poles) who don’t want to work.  At times they actually stopped the looking wan bit and took a break with a phone call on their cell phone and a cigarette.  I know I sound harsh but it is obvious that it is all a have!   There are more beggars in Edinburgh than in any other city we’ve been in!  With Evelyn’s baptism on the morrow, both sets of grandparents were here as well, so it was handy for us to just park a short distance away from the MacDonald apartment and sleep in our van as normal.  The de Rues grandparents came all the way from Oamaru that week and had plans to travel through Europe as well, whereas the MacDonalds (with another son) drove up from Canterbury south of London.  Jo, Tim’s sister, came down from St. Andrews, so it was a complete family reunion for them.  It was great to meet all the family and share in this important family occasion.  What a cutie six month Evelyn is, she was so well-behaved during the service, it didn’t worry her at all having cool water sprinkled over her forehead and having so many people crammed in the small apartment just gave her more people to smile at.

Evelyn loves the sound of her own voice and chatters away all the time

A reception was held after the baptism service, Tim, Rebecca and lovely Evelyn

Between the services we hiked to the top of Arthur’s Seat, an extinct volcano in the centre of Edinburgh, with Tim’s father and Jo, his sister.

Edinburgh was full of happy people as the famous Edinburgh Festivals were on.  We walked into the city each day to watch the buskers and on one day we actually splashed out and attended a concert.  When we booked it we really had very little idea of what sort of music they might play but it turned out to be excellent.  Three musicians, one on a keyboard, one with three clarinets, a computer and a bass saxophone and the last chappie played a trombone with four mutes, a tin whistle and another thing I can’t remember the name of but looked like an oversized bassoon.  They had written music to a famous Scottish fable, Tam Lin.  As the concert was on at 11a.m. mid-week they performed to just the six of us in this very intimate concert venue.  We thoroughly enjoyed it and the band enjoyed interacting with their audience as well.

Busker in city

A strange contraption in central Edinburgh to honour their famous son, Sir Walter Scott

Happy people

Clever clown

Our favourites! A Frenchman on the guitar, a Scots on the pipes and I didn’t hear the drummer speak, playing up a storm. Traditional tunes played by pipe bands jazzed up, every second song they bounced up and down on the spot while playing the guitar and pipes!

Even an Aussie having a go!

Dennis had been having trouble with his belt, it kept coming undone!  While walking back to Leith (the suburb where Seth and Esther live)  we noticed a cobbler.  Dennis asked him if he could fix his buckle and proceeded to  explain what he wanted done, as usual we got into quite a discussion with him.  He was pleased to hear that Dennis had also been a cobbler and astonished when he finally realised that I was one too!  When asked how business was at the moment he told us this “funny” story about how much better his business was going now.  He used to always go to the pub for a liquid lunch, for years he did this but now that he is sober he is saving a fortune!  “Saving all that money spent on beer?” asks I naively.  “No, all those shoes I wrecked in the afternoon, that I had to pay to have replaced with a new pair!” was his reply!  But other than that saving he actually wasn’t doing too well, that was why at the age of 71 he still had to work.  I was shocked by his admission and wasn’t that surprised that he wasn’t too busy, what with his previous reputation and all.

The real deal, brings tears to my eyes to hear a piper.