Sunday, October 14, 2001

Good-bye Edinburgh

Good-bye Edinburgh

This is our last full day in Edinburgh. We decided to take a train to Stonehaven, along the eastern coast of Scotland using our BritRail Pass. With the deals and saver tickets that the British rail system has these days, it could make the Rail Passes here obsolete. It is almost as cheap buying point-to-point tickets.

We started our journey by walking to the train station, something we have become quite accustomed to doing in this short weeks time. Up until now, the weather has been absolutely wonderful with sunny skies each day. Some days, it was so warm we did not need our jackets, but we had them with us just in case. In some spots, like on the castle hills, the wind is fierce and the temperature drops with the chill factor, but once you descend, it is warm again. Today was different. It was misty and sprinkling at times.

We boarded the train heading to Aberdeen. Stonehaven is one stop prior to the end of the line and the ride is a little over two hours. The train station is Stonehaven is almost no station at all, but two platforms that are elevated. The center of town is one mile away and we had to spring our umbrellas from their cozy resting place to be put into service. The town is small, quaint and like much of Scotland closed on Sunday. The one reliable establishment that can always be counted on to be open is a pub. We found O’Malley’s Pub open for business. We dropped in for tea and a scone before determining our route to the castle. There was a group of fourteen women having a shower of sorts. They all had lively headdress of the Halloween variety. One woman was opening presents and their laughter was spilling throughout the pub. It was fun to watch the Scottish version of this rite.

Finding that Dunnottar castle was over two miles, we nixed the idea of walking and took a taxi. The drive was through a forested area with mud streets, paved roads, and paths of rock, none of which had suitable protected walking areas. In the short distance we went over hills, through the forest, and through country farms filled with huge round bales of hay. The taxi was a wise idea. When the driver pulled into a parking lot with nothing to be seen for fifty feet in any direction other than the collection of hay in a field behind us, I had thought maybe he misunderstood our request to see the castle or he was preparing us for our first foreign scam on this trip. It was at that moment that I saw the sign on a fencepost for the castle entrance. Yes, I made a mental apology to the driver for questioning his motives. We had to walk through a disinfecting trough to get the walking path toward the castle. This was for hoof and mouth disease and did not make any sense since the castle has not had animals for over 400 years.

The dirt and rock path was about a quarter of a mile. As you got closer, through the mist, the outline of a giant cliff lifted from the sea rising toward the heavens emerged in the sky. Atop of the cliff was the outline of the castle. It was challenging to the mind to believe that anyone could build a castle at that height without the use of modern equipment. Even modern equipment would need to be dropped by helicopter. At the end of the path, you were faced with stairs. One hundred and sixty-nine stairs leading down toward the castle needed traversing prior to getting close to the castle. I did not need to do the counting. There were three youngsters that relished the idea of knowing the number. My thought was that I would rather not know how many steps I would need to climb to get back up, but you know how cruel children can be at times. With great remorse now, I decided to wait to take pictures of the castle at this point, hoping that the rain may give a bit on the way back. Along side the castle, but separated by water was another cliff rich with green vegetation. Through the cliff ran a waterfall in a heavy steady stream.

Once we were at the foot of the staircase from hell, there was a cave like opening to go through which led to the ticket booth. I had the wisdom to purchase the five postcards they were offering for one pound. To get to the castle from this point meant climbing yet more steps, however, these steps were the primitive kind. They were made from rock and ranged in width from five inches to twelve inches and were obviously created long before the person who invented the ‘Slippery when wet’ sign was born. They were treacherous on a rainy day even when one had the foresight to wear hiking boots. In between the flights of steps were landings that were produced by using rounded rocks and stuffing them into the earth is close proximity. It looked like the rounded parts of dozens of hard donuts, but without the traction that a donut would afford. It seemed that this would be the first concussion I would experience on a vacation for sure.

Once you made it to safe ground, the castle is in magnificent remnants. Dunnottar Castle was used as a fort from the 9th to the 17th century. For three centuries, the castle was in the hands of the Keith family, who were Grand Marischals of Scotland. This is where the Scottish Crown Regalia was kept in hiding during a siege by Cromwell’s Roundheads in 1650. It started falling into disrepair around 1715. Although there is not much to see in the rooms that still exist, it is worth seeing if only for the location.

Knowing now that there were 169 steps ahead of us, plus a two mile walk back to the center of town, we asked the ticket taker to call us a taxi. We went back to the pub from this afternoon to have a pub dinner. Roast beef or ham dinners with potatoes and vegetables was only 5.50 pounds and the helping looked more than healthy, for two carnivores. The shower party was still going on, but had downsized to six when we had returned. Our table was again right next to theirs and they were having a jolly festive time. One of the presents that I could see since they took it out to play with was a Barbie’s Stallion. The jokes were rampant about this object and we seem to think we could not understand their brogue. I am sure it was a Barbie knock-off anyway; none of the horse’s joints were flexible. Barbie certainly deserves better than then that since she is so limber in the modern age.

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