Tom and Linda’s 2008 Europe Trip

Scotland and Wales

Castle Dunnotar

It wasn’t a bad drive up the coast of Scotland, but it was a bit narrow and twisting. Our first stop, taken from my earlier trip, was the ruin of the Castle Dunnotar.

The path at the bottom of the photo leads across the narrow spit that is the only dry-land approach to the castle. On all other sides the land drops almost straight down into the North Sea where the waves spray high over treacherous rocks.

When you approach the castle from the land, you follow this path that climbs steeply just past the turn, and enter through a gate and a long tunnel with cannon pointing straight at you. They were probably archer stations in earlier times.

The castle was begun in the 13th century, added to by various monarchs into the 17th, and was never taken by force.

It is quite a hike out to the castle, and they use at least part of the entrance fee to maintain the facilities. Flush toilets now are tied into a septic system, rather than dumping directly into the sea as they used to.

Queen's Chambers

Around the grounds we found the exercise field, and what used to be the gardens, King's and Queen's chambers, the big dining hall and the kitchens.

Behind me is the Queen's antechamber and her bedchamber, which includes a seat with an opening directly over the sea.

It's always windy up here, and was probably usually quite cold. It was a primitive life, but a relatively safe one.

Country B&B

We found accommodation in a beautiful country B&B (Burnside, I think) just west of the village of Lossiemouth, where I had stayed with my friend Sue on my last visit. There were RAF raft races going on in Lossiemouth, so it was full.

There’s a big air base near there, and it doesn’t take much to fill up this little village that sits on the cliffs overlooking the North Sea.

Our room was big and all done up in tartan, with tourist information on the nightstand. Even had a bidet in the ensuite bath.

We did drive back to Lossiemouth for supper, and I think the place we ate at is the same B&B where Sue and I stayed. It’s built up a lot now and is apparently the hotspot of Lossiemouth – food served late in a large glass-sided pub overlooking the same golf course and lighthouse that I remember from last time.

Scottish Breakfast

We had ordered an early breakfast, since we wanted to cover some ground the next day. Tom wakes up at sunup anyway, and our jetlag was long gone. We had a short but restful night (this place had extra pillows!) Showered and packed and took our bags down to the hall before breakfast.

Breakfast was poached smoked haddock and egg – nicely done, delicious, and way too much fish!

Driving by Loch Ness

Back on the road early, we got to Collodon Battlefield, with its new museum, just as they were opening. The museum had a lot of information about the battle and its effects, but Tom was more interested in its causes. I remembered a rhyme from my childhood – maybe from Alice in Wonderland?

The Lion and the Unicorn
were fighting for the crown
The Lion beat the Unicorn
all around the town.

After the battlefield museum, we drove on up Loch Ness, looking for signs of its famous denizen.

Is that her wake?


We stopped in some small town for a better road map, being frustrated with the ones we had.

We found a Borders Books next door to a Tesco. Had to wait a little bit for the bookstore to open, but I found quite a variety of really good maps there.

Tom went to the Tesco and picked up some bread, apples, cheese and water for a picnic. They wouldn’t sell him wine before 12:30, and he was shocked. He thought only the bible belt of America did that.

Castle Urquhart

Castle Urquhart is the center of the monster sightings. It sits on a rock just at the deepest part of this deepest lake in the UK – 800 feet not far from the bank.

There were a lot of people there, but we used our Explorer passes to bypass the queue, pushed our way through the crowd in the shop, and took the long hike down and out to the castle ruins.

The ruins are quite extensive and there are little signs about that tell you where you are. I’m mostly interested in the way day-to-day life was lived, so the kitchens are always interesting.

We also found the stables, backed up to the water, and the smithy, with the path they led the horses along to get them shod.


There’s a new visitors’ center that tells more of the history than I remembered from last time.

This trebuchet sits on the grounds between the visitors center and the castle. I believe it actually works, That small kid actually moved one of the stone balls, while the big kid standing on the engine tried unsuccessfully to load and fire it.

The visitors’ center was packed full of people and trinkets. Since we were traveling with just a backpack each, it was easy to resist – anything we bought we’d have to carry all over Europe for the next month!

We didn’t go to the hokey little Loch Ness Monster museums that are scattered about the town. And we looked in vain for Nessie herself.

Scottish Highlands

On down Loch Ness, Tom seeing Nessie around every corner. It was a very narrow and winding road with quite a lot of traffic.

Tom misjudged a bit on the way into a layby and rammed the left front wheel on a low rock wall, flattening the tire. So before we had our planned roadside picnic, he changed to the spare.

We were a long way from any town of any size, and really needed to buy a new tire. And it was Sunday. We decided to continue as planned on the spare and take care of it on Monday.

About halfway down the Loch we turned north to follow an A-road loop up into the highlands and back, just to get a taste.

Mountain-top Piper

The Highlands are quite spectacular – long lochs nestled between high rounded bens than spring right up out of the water. Rugged hillsides of white rock peeking though green grass and purple thistle and heather, often set off with brilliant magenta fireweed.

There were a lot of people hiking the long trails through this country, and a lot of bus tours as well. Didn’t hear English spoken much, and I think not much Gaelic either.

Watching for good photos, we pulled over at a rest stop on the top of a ben, and found a piper there in full regalia, just starting to play.

He was quite gregarious, mostly playing up to the women. He grabbed my hand, wrapped it round his elbow, asked where I was from, and played “The Yellow Rose of Texas” for us. We took a few photos with him and bought a CD, which I ended up leaving in the rental car.

Loch Lomand in the Rain

Back on the main road around Loch Ness and on down the side of Loch Lomand. Sadly, there was a storm brewing, and the sun did not shine bright upon it, but it was bonny anyway.

Near the end of Loch Lomand we followed signs promising accommodation, and turned off the main road toward the village of Drymen.

The Clachan

We stopped at the inviting Clachan Inn pub/B&B in the center of the village, next to a Best Western, of all things. They didn’t have a room at the B&B, but the proprietor, Lynn (the daughter of the owner, Elizabeth Plank) offered to find us a place.

We decided to take her up on it and to stay for dinner.
The Clachan turns out to be the oldest continuously running pub in Scotland (est.1734).


The pub was packed, both bar and restaurant. We found a seat in the bar to wait for a table. Tom had a good wine and I had a dram of a Lafroaigh, having asked for a peaty whiskey. Then we splurged on a good steak dinner, which came with an interesting variety of side dishes.

Lynn found us an apartment, two rooms with a door on the street, managed by another B&B, for £90. Our most expensive night so far, but less than the Best Western. Breakfast was good, and we were surrounded by hikers gearing up for another day on the trail and an English couple who apparently go there for a week every year to get away from their kids.

Overall, it was an expensive stop, but a good one. We’ll remember The Clachan Inn fondly.


Lynn also gave us directions to the SMS Tyre Center in Stirling, just a few minutes away. We found it with only a few wrong turns in the confusing interlinked roundabouts.

They met us at the car, didn’t even ask what we needed, assessed the damage, sold us a new tyre, cleaned up the wheel so it looked almost new, put the trunk all back together, and had us on the road in about 20 minutes. With back-way directions to Stirling Castle. By then they were starting to get busy.

Robert the Bruce

Our Scotland Explorer passes got us into Stirling Castle, again bypassing the queue.

This castle was presented differently from the others. Rather than showing the ruins as they were, they’d put a lot of work into restoration and trying to show it as it would have appeared in its heyday.

This statue is of course Scotland's highly beloved Robert the Bruce.

Elizabethan Culture

It was quite a heyday – home of Mary Queen of Scots, and her son James VI of Scotland who became James I of England. Rich and sumptuous, the second center of Elizabethan court life.

The clothing was beautiful and intricate, musicians were employed, and jesters and weavers and chefs who invented fantastic dishes. The kitchens were extensive.

We wandered about, reading the signs and playing the recordings offered in various rooms. This is the home of the age of fairy tales.

Tapestry Weaving

There is a current project to weave replicas of the seven Unicorn Hunt tapestries which end with the famous “Unicorn in Captivity” and are a metaphor for Christ’s death and resurrection.

One of the tapestries was in progress on site at the castle, another in London. They started the main weaving, after the selvedge, in February this year and expect to finish this tapestry in 2011.

There are three weavers working fulltime, and they’re weaving them at 90% of the original size and at 4 warps per inch rather than the original 7 per inch. They have a palate of 110 wool colors, plus 20 silk and a gold thread. It was stunning.

We happened into a talk by the head weaver on the project. I felt inspired to learn tapestry weaving.

Lake District

At about 2PM we left Stirling and headed south on the motorway.

But the motorway was boring, and we took about an hour to detour through the Lake District – Kesnick and Cockermouth, birthplace of Wordsworth. When Tom and Kevin were here (was it three years ago?) these same banners were up.

Walked around Cockermouth a bit, had a snack, then headed back to the M-roads

We decided to drive a bit late to get past Manchester and Liverpool in the evening. Didn’t want to mess with morning traffic into those cities.

We ended up in a nondescript hotel in a village just off the A55.


Conwy Castle

A little under 200 miles to go this day, headed down to Builth Wells to visit the Harris family, with a detour through Snowdonia.

Tom was feeling a bit ill, so I did essentially all the driving. We made one intermediate stop, at Conwy Castle, which was a Welsh castle. Most of the castles in Wales are English castles, built to control the Welsh.

You can wander all around the tops of he walls here.


It was a cool and rainy day. We looked at other possible castle stops and even bought a Welsh Castle pass, having done so well with out Scottish one. But we never really used it.

Welsh, anyone? This one has more vowels than most.

Snowdonia National Park

Tom mostly slept and I mostly drove, down through Snowdonia National Park.

The park was quite beautiful, even in the rain and mist. Tom woke up once in a while and took some photos through the windows.


The scenery was lovely, but the driving was pretty stressful. Although these photos don't show it, there was way too much traffic, and busses and lorries on narrow, winding roads.

I tried to pull off when I could to let them pass so I could take my time. Pulled over once to take a quick nap, which helped my driving a lot.

Did I tell you they have a lot of sheep? They have a LOT of sheep.

The Middle of Wales

Our destination was Builth Wells (the u is silent), home of songwriter Jack Harris and his family. We met Jack when he blew us away at the Kerrville New Folk songwriter competition. He was only 18 years old then - how can he understand things so well?

We got to Builth Wells at about 4PM. Finally found a village map and a pay phone at the Tourist Info office and called the Harris house. Jack's mum Jude answered, knew exactly where we were, and she and Jack actually walked over to get us – they were that close.

Jude and I had exchanged email, but never met. So we got to meet Jack's family. What a wonderful, warm family they are.

The Harrises

These are photos of the house. You'll see the people further down.

We had met Jack Harris, a tall, red-headed, 18-year-old Welshman, at the Kerrville Folk Festival in Texas in 2005. He was in the New Folks songwriting contest, and eclipsed everything else we heard at the festival.

I had been in touch with both Jack and his mum, Jude, several times since, and had built a website for his music. This seemed a perfect opportunity to meet the family.

This was one of very few planned stops on our trip.

Jude is a teacher with lots of energy and lots of interests. Jack's dad, Russ, is from New Zealand, has a curious past, and is involved in everything.

Jack just finished a 2-year degree at Oxford. His brother Harry will be starting university in London this fall. His sister Ellen, still in high school, was pretty busy and we only saw her a few times.

After Dinner Song Circle

That's Harry on the left with the guiter, then Jude, Ellen and Jack

Welsh Countryside

The next day we went for a drive around the country, Jude at the wheel, up hills and around roads that we never would have driven – one narrow lane and blind corners. Jude would honk going into a corner in case there was anyone coming the other way.

Did I tell you they have a lot of sheep?

We went to visit old churches – the small ones that were built by small communities. They have more personality and are more accessible than the cathedrals.

Saw tombstones dating back to the 11th century at least, and up into the 21st.

Yew Tree

Tom asked about yew trees, in reference to the yew bows the Welsh famously used in battle. Russ found some big ancient ones for us.

This little old church was empty and open, but clearly in current use. There was a pamphlet in the back telling its history.

Nice to know there are some around that don't feel compelled to lock their doors.

Stopped on a road with a great view overlooking Builth Wells.

It was in places like this that Jude blew the horn to let oncoming traffic know we were there.

A Walk Around Builth

In the evening we went on a rainy walk and talk with Jack around a lake just down the block from the house.

We talked a little about his website. I’m hoping he’ll see it as a tool he can use and will send me material for it. At least gig information, once he gets settled in London.No idea where he is with that now.

A Fond Farewell

We spent two nights with the Harrises, and it was a wonderful homey haven in a big strange trip.

Had to get Jack out of bed that last morning to shoot this photo.

The South of England

From Builth, we headed east, with one night before our reserved train to Paris.

It was interesting to find this very modern bridge in the midst of all the stone houses.

William Hershel Museum

We had planned to spend a night in Bath, but were disappointed. Bath was hard to get in and out of, overcrowded and expensive.

We stayed for a few hours and visited the William Hershel Museum, four little rooms in a little row house on a back street. It’s only open a few hours a day, but we happened to catch it. Only this for a man from the late 18th and early 19th centuries who today is a world famous astronomer. He went on from being an amateur telescope maker to discover many important astronomical objects, including the planet Uranus.

The displays were interesting and well kept. This is one of the many telescopes built by Herschel. Glad we saw it.

We wandered around the busy streets for a bit, got very lost, found out the baths themselves are very expensive and a bit too much like a fancy modern spa for our taste. Made it back to the car, eventually, and got out.

Stone Circles

We decided to pass on Stonehenge and went to Avebury instead, where they actually let you walk around the standing stones.

This is the largest stone circle in the UK. Not the largest standing stones, but there’s a farm in the middle of the circle.

We walked around the stones for a while, among the sheep and a few other tourists.

Bought a few little things in the gift shop as it was closing. There was lots of information about crop circles as well as stone circles – beautiful aerial shots of crop art.


We stayed in a B&B in Marlborough that the local TI found for us. It was down a narrow unnamed lane off the main street and took us a while to find, even with directions.

It’s an old house that’s been selectively modernized, with a 3-bedroom addition. It’s owned and run by Caroline, who’s probably in her 60s, with husband Christopher as a backup, but he seems to not really be involved.

Walked back to the main street for dinner, then turned in early.

Last English Breakfast

We didn’t meet Caroline until breakfast, but enjoyed talking with her then.

We had breakfast early in this sunny room in the old part of the house, looking out onto the lovely back garden. Thanks to Caroline for setting it up early for us.

Then we headed for London, having a fairly tight schedule and expecting rush-hour backups.

  From here we headed for London and the EuroStar train to Paris. Read about that in the Paris section, next.


1 Beginning 5 Paris 9 Frankfurt and the Night Train 13 Bavaria and Tirol
2 London to Edinburgh 6 Bruges 10 Vienna 14 Motorcycles in the Alps
3 The Fringe 7 Amsterdam 11 Hallstatt and the Salzkammergut 15 Switzerland near Interlaken
4 Scotland and Wales 8 Bacharach in the Rhine Valley 12 Salzburg 16 Home again

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