Friday, October 12, 2001

Scotland Tours

It was a rough night and today we had planned on going on the tour to Loch Loman and Stirling Castle. Since the tours don’t go everyday now that tourist season is over, we decided we had better make it. We had to walk to the tour office which is about twenty-minutes away. Yesterday, when we had put in our reservation, there were only ten people signed up, but it was guaranteed to be a go. The bus was full with thirty-two people; a little squished but all right. We stopped at a couple of scenic view stops along the way for picture taking, before getting to Loch Loman. Loch, which means lake in Scottish, is the largest fresh body of water in Great Britain, being twenty-seven square miles. We took the hour long boat ride up and down the lake and were able to see some private islands and beautiful greenery on both sides of the shore. The leaves have not yet turned, so that was a bit disappointing. We were hoping to see a rainbow of colors dropping from the trees.
Our guide explained the meaning of the song, Bonnie, Bonnie Banks of Loch Loman. It was written by a highlander who was arrested for treason along with a friend of his. He was declared guilty and was to be hanged. His friend was found innocent. He wrote the song for his girlfriend that he had left behind. This tragic song with the words “You take the high road and I will take the low road” is based on the Highlanders belief that when they died, their soul traveled a mythic low road back to their place of birth. So he knew that as soon as he was executed, his soul traveling the low road would reach Loch Loman before his friend could arrive back home to deliver the news. Also, we learned that there are no National Parks in Scotland, but a law is being passed now to create them so Loch Loman to be the first.
Our lunch stop was at the Scottish Wool Center. This was a tiny quaint little town that had its own history and was a major stop for those that wanted to purchase Scottish wool products. There was a very elderly lady that provides spinning exhibitions and then a loom is set up for those that want to know how their tartan came about. Of course, now it is all done on industrial looms. The lunch we chose was a dull lentil soup that had the correct coloring and consistently, but the flavor took a vacation.
Of course, haggis was available as it is everywhere here. For the uninitiated, there are numerous recipes of haggis, but the traditional recipe calls for the heart, lung, kidneys of a lamb mixed with two cups of oatmeal, and spices then stuffed into and cooked in the lambs stomach bag. That whole thing is then deep-fried. One of the things we heard from two guides is that the Scots are notorious for deep-frying everything. One guide told us that they batter and deep fry Mars bars, the chocolate bar. We thought it was a joke until we started seeing signs in candy shops for it. Both guides explained that the Scots use lard, not vegetable oil for their frying and have one of the highest heart attack rates in the world.
Another tidbit of information was that the Highlanders who drove their sheep for miles did not want to take the time for cooking meals along the way. They would take handfuls of oatmeal and let spring waters run over their hands to moisten the oatmeal and then eat the mush that was created. Since they could not open their hands much, less the oatmeal escape, the Scots earned the reputation as being ‘tight fisted’.
Stirling castle surroundings was a lovely site and was where Mary Queen of Scots was crowned at nine months of age, but Ron and I had decided not to visit the interior. Most of the interiors are depleted of furnishings, so you are only seeing rooms, not what it was like then. Instead we took the time allotted and walked through the cemetery on the outside of the castle walls. There were some interesting headstones and it was amazing at how many names would be listed on one stone. Sometimes the names were not of other relations, but of friends or someone who could not afford a headstone of their own.
As we drove back to Edinburgh, we came across a Highland cow and bull in the field. The driver stopped for us to take pictures. Highland cows are rusty brown in color, but what makes them unique is their coat. Their fur is long and shaggy and they have long bangs over their eyes. They are quite charming with their long horns and the cow was especially interested in attention. The bull was resting farther in the meadow with his back to us and never budged.
Later in the drive, we saw a field of sheep, which is not that unusual in Scotland. Wool is one of their main products. This group of sheep was a special breed with coats of white and black wool stripes growing down their backs. Some had white faces, while others had black. Their legs looked shorter than the other sheep we had seen. All at once, the sheep started to run like a wolf was chasing them. Their short legs did their best to provide a gallop through the grassy hill. We could not understand what had caused this sudden burst of energy until the next sight was a six-point buck running toward them. The buck was running like a prince of the herd with his head raised high and his rack pointing toward the sky. Why he was running chasing the sheep or just scaring the cud out of them was never resolved as the bus turned the corner and they went out of view.
We learned that sheep only have a life span of about 12 years only because that is the time it takes for them to wear out their teeth from grazing all of the time. After that time they are slaughter so they do not starve to death. The quality of their wool never changes, so Ron is advocating sheep dentures to keep them grazing longer in the greener pastures. We did see some of the sheep with the double horns. One set is sheep horn and one is a goat like horn.
When we returned to Edinburgh, we decided that the trip was worth it for the spotting of the deer with the sheep and the Highlander cows alone. The rest of the day was extra little bonuses. Across from the castle in Edinburgh is a Starbucks that is upstairs. We were told that it had one of the best views of the castle at night from their windows. Sacrificing having to visit yet another Starbucks, we ventured up. It does have a stunning view of the castle. They light up the castle beautifully at night and it is magical to sit and sip coffee and just stare at it. Well, I did not just stare at the castle, I read the paper also. There was this interest puzzle in the paper and we are offering a souvenir (from where we happen to be at the time) to be mailed to the first person that figures this out. There are two parts to the puzzle. Part one: What are the missing numbers in the series below? Part two: What does the series of numbers represent?
17 23 5 18 20 ? 21 9 15 16 Row One
1 ? 4 6 7 8 10 11 12 Row Two
? 24 3 22 2 14 13 Row Three
Winners need not be present to win, but you do need to answer both parts correctly and
there is only one correct answer to either part. Just having a little fun with all of you.
Our last stop for the evening was the Hard Rock Café. This place was jumping. We had to wait for a table. It is the same size as the one in London, but really rocking. Our treat was dinner there and of course our pins. That warranted a walk home if for nothing else than to work off dinner. I am happy to report that the toilet and the sink are now fully functional on the second floor. Another day should be the deadline for completing the shower and this B & B will get an A+ in my book.
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