Exploring Belfast

We headed out this morning without a firm plan in mind. Walk around a bit, eat something and then figure things out. As it turned out, we had two tour companies on the street corner competing for our business just as we were looking for a pub. We took their info and while we were having lunch, looked over the pamphlets for the Hop On, Hop Off. In the end, we went with the company that had a double decker bus with a closed top as it was beginning to rain. We rode the bus while we listened to a comedic narrative from our host. As much as we wanted to stay on the bus and listen to his stories, we got off to explore the Titanic Museum. Until now, I was not aware that the Titanic had been built in the Belfast shipyards. The museum is located on the original build site of the Titanic. It provides a brief history of the industrialization of Belfast and the evolution of ship building in the yards. From there we were taken on an actual ride in a motorized trolley through a series of historic construction areas on the Titanic. Once off the trolley we saw a reconstruction of a first class suite and a 3-D interactive display showing the finished ship from the engine rooms through to the command centre at the top.  The museum is very well done and worth a look if you are ever in Belfast.

We left the museum and jumped back on the bus to explore the rest of the city. Unfortunately, we had a different tour guide and we both agreed that he must have been drunk. We had a very hard time understanding him and finally decided it wasn’t just the accent. Sometimes he was just mumbling and at other times we are sure that he fell asleep. We couldn’t really do much else but laugh but the rest of the tour was definitely a waste of money.

We got off the bus and headed for home. On the way we passed a small pub that had some live music coming from inside. We couldn’t just pass on by and spent the next 45 minutes listening to a young man playing some James Taylor, Marvin Gaye, Stevie Wonder, Pink Floyd and other well known songs. He was very talented and we enjoyed it immensely. We spoke to him after his set and he will be in Ontario for a few weeks in July doing some work with the daughter of one of the ladies of the band Leahy. He is looking forward to coming to Canada and we assured him that the weather will be nice and warm for him. It was a great way to end the day.

Tomorrow we head out on a Game of Thrones tour. We certainly hope that we do not get the same tour guide!!!

The Europa Hotel.  The most most bombed hotel in Europe.

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We dropped in at Whites Tavern.  The oldest Pub in Belfast.

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A couple of iconic places in Belfast.  The Grand Opera House and the Crown Liquor Saloon which apparently was a Church at one time.

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The leaning tower of Belfast.  It is about four feet off center.

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The little Pub we visited on the way back to our flat.

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The Peace Walls.

The Belfast Peace Walls are a series barriers that were erected to separate Catholic and Protestant neighborhoods in Northern Ireland. They are located in areas in Belfast, Derry, Portadown and elsewhere. The purpose of the peace lines was to minimize the violent interactions between Catholics (most of whom are nationalists who self-identify as Irish) and Protestants (most of whom are unionists who self-identify as British).

The Belfast Peace Walls range in length from a few hundred yards to over three miles. They may be made of iron, brick, and/or steel and are up to 25 feet high. Some of the walls actually have gates allowing passage during daylight hours but they remain closed during the night.

I was able to get a conversation going with the bartender at White’s Tavern and he told me that thankfully there is, for the most part, peace in Belfast but there is still a lot of tension.  Hopefully they can work it out someday in a peaceful manner

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Leaving Scotland

As we sit at the quay waiting for our ferry to leave for Ireland, I am reflecting on the last week and our quick rip through Scotland. Starting in Edinburgh, to the Highlands, back down to Stirling then Glasgow, and finishing off in the beautiful coastal town of Stranraer, we feel that we caught the general essence of the country. The castles, the culture, the scenery and of course the people definitely give us cause to return for further exploration at a later date.

We look forward to visiting Ireland and find it hard to believe that at this time next week, we will be on a flight home. Where did these 11 months go?

Our Airbnb in Stranraer was one of the nicest we have had for a while. We were just feet from the water and the view from our room was great.

Off To Glasgow

Today we were able to drop off the car. Even though we enjoyed having it and it was great to get in all those out of the way places, all those out of the way places are ridiculous to drive in. I don’t know whether either one of us was ever completely comfortable behind the wheel. If you are ever visiting the UK and decide to drive, just remember that there are 67 million people in a country that fits three times into the province of Manitoba. So, left hand driving, lots of cars, lots of roundabouts and in many places, very narrow roads – it does not lead to a completely stress free vacation. Anyways, before we dropped the car, we went for lunch and then walked over to Stirling Bridge. This is the bridge where William Wallace defeated the much more powerful English army in 1297. The existing bridge however is not the original bridge but rather a stone bridge that was built during the 1500’s. Nevertheless, it is pretty impressive. We wandered around the park there, read the storyboards, took some pictures and said our goodbyes to Stirling.

Once we dropped off the car, we caught a train to Glasgow. It was a very short ride – only 30 minutes – so we were much too early to check in at our BNB. We walked down the main tourist street and were stopped by a very exuberant fellow. He had seen the Canada flags on our backpack and wanted to chat. He is originally from Glasgow but now lives in PEI. He is here now visiting his elderly mother and enthusiastically told us about the Tim Horton’s just around the corner and gave us directions to a couple of other places. He ended the conversation with “Keep your stick on the ice and keep your fu_ken head up” and headed off into the crowd. What a cool way to be greeted in Glasgow!!

Stirling Bridge…

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Castles, Castles and Silly Movies

We headed out of Inverness and set our GPS to the Doune Castle, about a three hour drive towards Stirling. Today I was driving so Richard was able to see the beautiful scenery that he missed on the way up north. It rained off and on but for the most part, the drive was pleasant.

We arrived at Doune Castle at 1:00, had a quick lunch of pre-prepared sandwiches and headed inside. Doune Castle is a medieval castle built during the 14th century by Robert Stewart, Duke of Albany. Doune reflects current ideas of what a royal castle building should be. It was planned as a courtyard with ranges of buildings on each side, although only the northern and north-western buildings were completed. These comprise a large tower house over the entrance, containing the rooms of the Lord and his family, and a separate tower containing the kitchen and guest rooms. The two are linked by the great hall. Though the castle has received restoration over the years, it is still very much like the original. We know this castle for the movies and TV shows that have been filmed here. It was the main filming location of Monty Python’s “In Search of the Holy Grail”. In fact, the audio tour is done by none other than Python’s Terry Jones. This entertaining tour features audio clips from the movie and a lighthearted, informative narrative of the castle itself. The castle has also been featured as Castle Leoch in the series Outlander and Winterfell in Game of Thrones. We felt that of all the castles we have seen to date, this one was the most authentic and well preserved. If you are ever in Scotland, this is a must see.

From the castle we drove onto Stirling and stopped at the Wallace Monument. This monument is a tribute to Sir William Wallace who fought for Scottish freedom against the English King Edward I, also known as Edward Longshanks. The most famous battle was fought at the Stirling Bridge where the Scottish delivered a resounding defeat to the English troops. This made Wallace a hero in the eyes of his Scottish peers. If you have watched Mel Gibson’s Braveheart, then you will know that things did not turn out so well for Wallace. In 1305 Wallace was captured, drawn and quartered and his head was set on a spike for all his comrades to see. I think that the British thought that this would end the rebellion of the Scottish but as we know from history, war raged between the two for almost another 500 years.

We stopped at our BNB, dropped our bags and decided to walk up to Stirling Castle. The rain that had threatened all day finally fell and most of the walk up was with the umbrella. By the time we reached the top, we were informed that the castle had closed for the day. Though we weren’t planning to tour the interior anyway, we had hoped to get some pictures of the courtyard inside the walls. However, we had no such luck and we headed back down the hill. We stopped in the old part of town for a bite to eat (Richard again had some haggis which he seemed to like), headed back to the BNB, made some popcorn and settled in to watch, of course, The Holy Grail. It just gets better everytime we see it – especially now that we have see the the film locations.

Today we drop off our car and head to Glasgow by train. In a couple of days we are in Ireland and then Canada. Where has the time gone?!?!

Doune Castle

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This picture is of the section in the kitchen where the fire was for cooking.  It was large enough to accommodate and entire cow on the spit.  The picture below show a section of the wall where the knives were sharpened.

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Col and I posing with coconuts which were used to make the horsey hoof sounds in the Holy Grail movie.

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Our favourite scene of the Castle from the Monty Python movie.

The Wallace monument…

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Stirling Castle & Stirling.

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Robert the Bruce.

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Stirling Old Town.

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My second meal of Haggis.  Not sure why people back home don’t like it.  I think it tastes fine.

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Moors and Lochs (It Doesn’t Get Much More Scottish Than That!)

Every since I was young I have read about Bonnie Prince Charlie and his failed attempt to take back his crown. I always wondered where things went wrong. As I grew older and read more about it, it did seem quite tragic and sad. So, when Diana Gabaldon came out with the Outlander series based on the Scottish Highlands, I was hooked. I read her books, did more research and was excited when we decided to come up to Inverness. Culloden Moor is where the final battle of the Jacobites (Scottish rebels and supporters of Prince Charles Stuart) and the English (the government) took place on April 16, 1746. Our BNB is only three miles from this historic battleground!! The battle was doomed from the start. Though the rebels had won battles against the English at Prestonpans and Falkirk the previous year, the English army greatly outnumbered them in men and artillery. The Jacobite army consisted of clansmen which were mainly farmers. On the morning of April 16, as the English army advanced towards Culloden, the rebels were disorganized and confused due to an aborted raid on the English troops the night before.  Many were sleeping in ditches and outbuildings while others were out searching for food. They quickly reorganized but orders from commander in chief, Prince Charles came too late or were not followed and the Jacobites were defeated within an hour. Over 1500 of the 7000 men were killed and many others captured. From then on the English government banned the display of tartan or the use of Gaelic speech. It was the last armed conflict on Scottish soil. We parked our car at the front gate and started walking through the battlefield. Flags and flagpoles illustrate where the both the Jacobite and the Government front lines were. There are walkways, storyboards, and memorial stones throughout the grounds. The moor is rugged and covered in heather, small brush and trees. We spent a couple of hours wandering about and were saddened by the tragedy of it all. Of course, Charles Stuart, for whom they all fought for, escaped to France and lived for another forty years, never to return again to Scottish soil while his countrymen paid the price. To me, that is the real tragedy.

After Culloden, we headed into Inverness for lunch and some shopping. Other than the very ultra modern mall, the town is quaint and fairly touristy.

We couldn’t come all this way and not check out the legend of the Loch Ness monster! We headed down the Loch to the Information and Visitor Centre. They had a very informative and interesting media exhibit showing the history of Loch Ness monster sightings, subsequent research and left us with the question – myth or reality? I think that we both agreed that the monster is a myth but the Loch itself is very interesting. The largest freshwater body of water in Britain, it runs from the North Sea at Inverness to the Irish Sea at Fort William. We decided that we would like to see the Loch close up, so we took a one hour cruise.  Though it was rainy and overcast, our cruise director was informative and witty. We travelled a couple of miles up and down the Loch, past the ruins of Urquhart Castle, the largest castle in Scotland, and listened to stories of the research being done on the lake. Though as mentioned, it is the largest freshwater lake in Britain, the water is not used for drinking. In fact, the Loch is really used for nothing except for recreational boating and fishing. It is too cold to swim and there are very few fish. The biggest attraction here is “Nessie” and there have been 16 reported sightings of her already this year. Maybe not the myth that we think?

We head off to the Doune Castle near Stirling tomorrow. Many movies, including the Holy Grail and episodes of Outlander have been filmed here. Stirling is where the statue of William Wallace stands as well as the Stirling Castle. Should be another great day of entertainment and history!!

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The British front line with red flags and the Scots with the blue flags.  There were about 400 meters apart.

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Memorial stones and a picture of the battlefield.

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Loch Ness

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Our boat cruise on the Loch…

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Here is some English Gaelic to try out.

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Scotland is a beautiful country and the people are so friendly and welcoming, but sometimes it is a bit difficult to understand them.  Col manages better than I do.  More than once in a restaurant I have given the server the deer in the headlights look after she or he asked me a question.  Apparently they even have that problem in the Scottish Parliament.

 

 

Off to the Highlands – with a quick stop at St. Andrews Golf Course!!

Well, the lengthy title sort of sums up the day. We left Edinburgh at about 10 AM and after some finagling through the city, we were out in the Scottish countryside and headed to St. Andrews. The GPS lady didn’t take us on any crazy detours on unidentified roads so the drive was fairly easy and we arrived there around 11:30. Across from the carpark we found the famous members only clubhouse, watched some people tee off on Hole 1 and others putt out on Hole 18.  I think that I should let Richard take it from here….

Anyone who golfs or is a sports fan has heard of St. Andrews Golf Club.  It is the oldest and arguably the most iconic course on the planet.  Golf has been played on the Links at St Andrews since around 1400 AD, and the Old Course is renowned throughout the world as the Home of Golf. What was one simple track hacked through the bushes and heather has developed into six links golf courses and four other courses in the immediate area.  By 1764, the Old Course consisted of 22 holes, 11 out and 11 back, with golfers playing to the same hole going out and in, except for the 11th and 22nd holes. The golfers decided the first four holes, therefore also the last four holes, were too short and that they should be made into two holes instead of four. Thus the number of holes per round dropped from 22 to 18, and that is how today’s standard round of golf was created.  In 1754, the Royal and Ancient Club was founded under its original name of the Society of St Andrews Golfers. This club, originally composed of 22 noblemen, professors and landowners, has become the foremost golf club in the world and now governs the rules of golf everywhere except in the USA.

I was not that excited as we were traveling to the grand ol’ course, but once we arrived and starting walking around it was quite exciting.  So glad we took the detour to stop in for a visit.

The celebrated clubhouse of St. Andrews.

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The Swilcan Bridge.

It’s not a particularly imposing bridge, but the Swilcan Bridge on The Old Course’s 18th hole is one of the most famous golf course landmarks in the world.

Everyone who crosses it stops to have his or her photo taken, even the pros. And this gallery of Swilcan Bridge images includes some of those famous pros who’ve posed on it. Even a trio of greats who said their goodbyes to St. Andrews from atop it — plus another legend of the game who once tap danced across it.

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Jack Nicklaus.

Some of the course and those hated bunkers.

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I snuck on to the course to take the bunker shots and figured I might as well take a selfie while I Am On St. Andrew’s Golf Course!!!!

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St. Andrew’s Ale at St. Andrews.

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The picture below was in the club house where we had lunch.

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Before we reached Inverness we stopped for a coffee and Col managed to get the Highland Cow to stand still long enough for a photo.

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Edinburgh, Scotland

The day looked pretty rainy and miserable but we are in Scotland now so it is either tour in the rain or never see Scotland. Or so we have been led to believe. When we arrived in Edinburgh the day before, there was no rain. Our BNB is just down the block from the North Sea so, though it was windy and a bit chilly, we walked the promenade from one end to other.  The sea was wild and choppy but there were still people on the beach, in the water and spending time with friends and family. We decided that they were much tougher than us as they were in shorts and t-shirts while we were bundled in our winter jackets. That doesn’t happen very often!

Anyways, on Day two we jumped the bus and headed to Old Edinburgh. Though we have the car, we thought that it would be much easier to ride the bus and given all the construction downtown, we were right about that. We got off in front of the Scott Monument, dedicated to Sir Walter Scott, a writer. The monument is quite impressive and is the second largest in the world dedicated to a writer. The other is in Havana, Cuba.

We joined all the other folks with their umbrellas heading towards the Edinburgh Castle. This historic fortress dominates the skyline of the city from its position on the volcanic Castle Rock. Though the Rock has been occupied since the Iron Age, King Charles I was the last sovereign to stay there. He slept there on 19 June 1633, the night before his Scottish coronation. The Castle has played a prominent role in the ongoing battle between the Scottish and the English and has had many facelifts as a result of war and destruction. It now houses the Crown Jewels and is the number one tourist spot in Scotland. We took a few pictures and then headed down Royal Mile to see the historic buildings and the shops.

We did some shopping, had lunch at the McGregor (can’t get much more Scottish than that!!)  and when the rain finally stopped, we headed up to Calton Hill. Calton Hill is one of Edinburgh’s main hills, set right in the city centre. It is unmistakable with its Athenian acropolis poking above the skyline. The acropolis is in fact an unfinished monument – originally called the “National Monument”. Initiated in 1816, a year after Napoleon’s defeat at Waterloo, it was meant to be a replica of the Parthenon in Athens, as a memorial to those who had died in the Napoleonic Wars. However, funds ran out during construction and it has never been completed.  The panoramic views of the city and the craggy volcanic hills that surround it are amazing. I can only imagine what you could see on a clear day!!

We headed back down the hill and satisfied with a day well spent in the capital city, headed back to our BNB to get ready for tomorrow’s adventure – a trip up to Inverness to see if we can catch a glimpse of the Loch Ness monster. Wish us luck!!

PS…  Richard had his first taste of Haggis today.  He actually like it.

The sign sums up what it is like to drive in Great Britain.

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The Scott Monument.

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Edinburgh Castle.

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Around Edinburgh

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Hadrian’s Wall

Today we walked on Hadrian’s Wall! Built by the Romans in AD122, this 84 mile defensive fortification spanned the northern limits of the Roman Empire and ran from the North Sea to the Irish Sea. Hadrian, the emperor of Rome, decided that there was no value in pushing the territory any further north and had the wall designed to repel attacks from the northern tribes. It was built by Roman soldiers in a span of about eight years and it is believed that they used very little local labor. The original design had lookout turrets every few miles along the wall. However, a few years into construction, Hadrian decided that forts should also be built into the wall. Many portions of the wall had to be torn down and rebuilt to accommodate the new design. As the years went by, many soldiers were called back to Rome due to an ever increasing threat to the city. Most did not return to Britain. The forts and the wall were completely abandoned by the Romans around AD410. In the years that followed, much of the structure fell to ruin or the stone was pilfered for other construction projects. Today, a number of the fort ruins and portions of the wall have been excavated and are open for visitors to explore. The Hadrian’s Wall Pathway is a walking trail that runs along the entire length of the wall. So, if you have five to seven days of free time, this is a fun thing to do. Unfortunately, we do not have that kind of time at this point of our journey, but we were able to walk on the wall for about a kilometer. It is pretty amazing to think that this structure, built 1900 years ago, has stood the test of time. We visited two forts and it should be noted that the views from them were fantastic. Beautiful countryside – both north and south.

Following our walk back in time, we headed home for supper and reflected on another perfect day in England. Tomorrow we cross the border and head up to Edinburgh, Scotland. I wonder what kind of adventures we’ll find there.

PS. I probably do not thank you, our friends and readers, nearly enough for your support. It is always great getting feedback on something I’ve written or pictures that Richard has posted. We got two comments on our Lake District blog that I would like to pass along. The cattle with the bangs are most likely Highland cattle and the stone fences are called Dry Stone Walls. Thank you Cathy and Janet for that information. We appreciate it!

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The Lavatory…img_5457img_5481img_5490img_5491img_5495

Col looking over the Northern frontier checking for Barbarians.img_5466img_5463img_5474img_5471

The Lake District

We packed the car and sadly said goodbye to our hosts in Wales and headed north towards Scotland. Though we were excited for the rest of our journey, I couldn’t help but think that I had left a little piece of myself in the beautiful hills around Welshpool. I can understand why my Gran always spoke of this place with so much reverence.

The three and a half hour drive turned into about six as we decided to take a detour and have lunch in the Lake District. I have read many novels that have their setting at this area and I wanted to see for myself if it is as beautiful as I have read. What we noticed first of all was the stone fences. You may recall that the fences in England and Wales were thick hedges at about shoulder height. As we entered the Lake District, the fences were all stone – along the road, though the pastures and fields and around the houses. It was absolutely amazing!! Richard had picked a spot for lunch called the Drunken Duck and the winding road took us through the countryside filled with sheep, through a number of small touristy, villages and past some pretty magnificent homes along the lake. The Drunken Duck is known for its views and we weren’t disappointed. The sky was clear, the sun was shining and we could see for miles. The waiter told us that we were very lucky as most of the time it is raining and you can’t really see anything for the clouds. We had a fairly basic lunch, walked a bit to stretch our legs and got back in the car for the rest of our journey. Richard was driving now and rather than go back out the way we came in, we decided to just keep driving north. Though the road got even more narrow, windy and hilly, the scenery was fantastic! Cute, little bungalows. Rocky hillsides. Green pastures. Beautiful valleys. Large lakes. Thousands of sheep. Even a pasture of long, horn cattle with bangs!! And all of this scenery encompassed within those magnificent stone fences. We stopped a couple of times to take pictures and though we will post some, I am sure that they will not do them justice. We both agreed that the scenery was well worth the nerve wracking drive!!

We arrived at our BNB in Carlisle, England about 4 PM. We settled in, went for a walk to get a few groceries and hunkered in for the night. We are about a half hour drive from Hadrian’s Wall and plan on a fairly long day tomorrow as we explore this historic Roman architecture.  Another amazing day in jolly Old England!!

The Drunken Duck and the views from where we ate.

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The winding road out of the Lake District.

I am not too proud to say it was a bit of a nail biter.  The going was slow due to the narrowness of the road and a lot of it was lined with the stone fences which were sometimes inches from the car.  I was quite happy to get back on the motorway.

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The black lines in the field below are the rock fences.img_5435img_5440img_5448