Tag Archives: scotland

Glencoe and Loch Ness

I probably would have skipped this tour and spent more time in Edinburgh if I’d known what it was going to be like. I chose Rabbie’s because they offer smaller, more personal tours. With bus tours, a lot depends on the driver/guide you get, and I just didn’t really get on with my guide. He didn’t talk enough during the drive – I love a guide that just tells you everything about the country and the history you’re passing through. This guy was more into playing music, which would have been ok, if he’d stuck to Scottish music, and didn’t keep veering off into random music like Pink Floyd. (That was when he really lost me…I hate Pink Floyd. Nails on a chalkboard…)

The largest horses in the world; who knew they lived in Scotland?

And I was just a bit underwhelmed by the scenery too. The Highlands are beautiful, don’t get me wrong, but they are so very much like where I live, in the Pacific Northwest.

Everyone else on the tour was oohing, and I was just…it looks like home. Yeah, by this time I was completely spoiled by all the things I’d already seen, in Iceland and elsewhere.

I don’t remember the name of the place those first three pictures were taken. Some loch on the way to Glencoe.

Glencoe, at least, did live up to my expectations of beauty. That is definitely a place worth going to. And different than home, yes!

And here’s an example though, of why I didn’t like my guide overly much. He told us basically nothing about the history of Glencoe. I knew the basics, of course, but I’m sure there are tons of fascinating details I don’t know – and in opinion, a guide shouldn’t assume his tour already knows even the basics.  I had perfect weather, again, and the guide did a great job of beating the large tours up here, so we got an unspoiled walkaround.

After Glencoe, we went to Loch Ness. I was super pleased with my guide here, because instead of taking us to one of the touristy, busy parts of the lake, he brought us to a little village whose name I have forgotten.  Queen Victoria came here, though, on her tour of the Highlands. She was eating her lunch on the deck of her boat when they came through the canal locks, and was very displeased by the rudeness of the villagers who all crowded around the banks to stare at her while she ate. In reality, though, it wasn’t to see her eat, but simply because they always gathered to watch boats pass through the locks.

I got to watch four boats go through the locks while I was there, and it was fascinating.

One thing that was on my must-do list was try a steak and kidney pie. I finally had my chance. I took it down to Loch Ness to eat.

It was good! I’m now a fan.

Loch Ness itself was very quiet and peaceful. I sat beside the water for almost an hour. So pretty. And so much like home.

From the Loch, there’s a canal through the village.

On the way back to Edinburgh, we stopped briefly in Pitlochry. It’s another village that Queen Victoria visited. Another solo girl from the tour and I foraged out together, first to find a restroom, and then ice cream. She had the familiar choice of raspberry. I tried the Traditional.

The girl (as we’re waiting for the clerk): “What flavor is that? Vanilla?”

The clerk: “No. It tastes like…like milk.”

The girl, making a disgusted face: “Milk????”

It was good. It did taste like milk, very very creamy rich milk. There was another flavoring in there, too, but I couldn’t identify what it was.

Continuing on in the bus, we had to stop for some hairy coos.

I was so delighted.

And so was everyone else on the bus.

Edinburgh 2015

My new favorite city in the whole world.

I boarded the sleeper train to Edinburgh at a little before midnight. Each car of the train has its own attendant, and mine was a super nice gentleman with a gorgeous Scottish accent. I think a Scottish accent is my favorite when it comes to men. (For women, it’s Welsh.)

I loved the sleeper train; I’d love to do it again. The motion of the rails was so relaxing. At about 6:30am, my attendant “knocked me up” and brought me breakfast – porridge with honey. Here’s a tip I have for traveling in the U.K.: carry little packets of salt in your pockets. I don’t know why, but no one pre-salts the food. French fries are unsalted, porridge is unsalted….I learned this pretty quickly, as they don’t include salt packets in Takeway orders, either.

But Edinburgh!

At 7am when they kicked me off the train, the city was pretty much devoid of tourists. It was all mine. I left my bags at my hotel, and went immediately to the Royal Mile. None of the shops were open yet, and I just walked down it, looking in all the windows. I just felt so happy here, like I’d found a place where I really belonged.

If I ever come to the UK again, I’m bypassing London, and flying directly into Edinburgh. Edinburgh was another of my Five Best Experiences.

There were several old churchyards, and of course I wandered through them.

I visited the Elephant House, where JK Rowling wrote much of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone.

It is justly named the elephant house. There are elephants everywhere inside. Big ones, medium sized ones, and a display case of little ones…and a signed first edition of Rowling’s first book. Plus, a personal thank-you note from her to the cafe.

I visited St. Giles Cathedral, which I liked so much more than Westminster Abbey.

Here, the stained glass was gorgeous and within reach.

It was just much warmer, and more welcoming. But still awe-inspiring.

The St. Giles churchyard was where Rowling used to wander for inspiration. Many of her characters’ names are taken directly from the gravestones. Including Tom Riddle’s.

One of the most haunted places in the world is here, at the Mackenzie mausoleum, home to a violent poltergeist.

All was peaceful when I was there.

Loved the grave art.

The architecture in Edinburgh is so spiky and beautiful. I found myself just repeating “I love it here” over and over inside my head as I walked around.

There are famous dogs,

and pigs I’ve never heard of.

And everywhere, cunning little “closes” or alleys.  I took an interactive tour of The Real Mary King’s Close, and thoroughly enjoyed it. Incredibly informative about Edinburgh’s early days.

The other really amazing thing was Holyrood Palace. Besides being still a lived-in palace by the British monarchy, it was Mary Queen of Scot’s palace. I saw the place where her jealous husband and his friends dragged her male secretary out of her breakfasting room and stabbed him 50+ times in front of her. History gets real when you’re actually standing in it!

Let us talk of graves, of worms, and ephitaphs. Write sorrow on the bosom of the earth. Let us sit upon the ground and tell sad stories of the death of kings. How some have been deposed, some slain in war, some haunted by the ghosts they have deposed. Some poisoned by their wives, some sleeping killed, all murdered.

Richard II, Shakespeare


Travel Itinerary

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Okay…after spending four+ years thinking about this trip, planning this trip, and changing my mind frequently on what to see and where to go, it’s now pretty much set in stone. So here it is:

September 15th: Board plane for Iceland. I don’t know guys. I may be more excited to be in Iceland than any other part of my trip. The more I look at pictures/read about it, the more it just calls to my soul.

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September 16, 17, 18th: Iceland.  I have booked tours of the South Shore, as well as horse riding over a lava field, and a tour of geysers and waterfalls. I’m taking an extra bag so I can break my “only carryon luggage” on the return flight. I have discovered that wool yard is actually a lot cheaper in Iceland than in the states, and I am completely in love with Icelandic wool. So I may just have to fill that suitcase, and mail it home once I reach London.

September 19th: Flight to London. The one thing I have absolutely planned for this date is watching the premiere of season 9 of Doctor Who in London! In the theater, if they do a big screen airing…otherwise I made sure my hotel has a television.

September 20th: London. Tour of Highgate Cemetery, canal ride in Little Venice, and shopping the Camden Markets.

September 21 – 22nd: In the morning, I have a tour booked of the Royal Opera House. Then, I will meet up with my friend Alberta and take the train to Leeds Castle, where we have a room booked. I also have an Owl Experience booked at Leeds Castle!  We return to London on the 22nd, just in time to attend a theatre performance of The Woman in Black. I hear it’s terrifying. I hope so! My second friend, Bonnie, will be flying in on the 22nd to join us as well, but she’s not into being scared, so she is going to see Shakespeare at the Globe instead. Wuss. 😉

September 23rd: Oxford. All three of us are taking the train for the day to Oxford. I’m particularly interested in seeing the world of C.S. Lewis. He’s probably done more than any author in shaping my inner self.  Tolkien – and Harry Potter film sites – are also a big draw.  If the weather allows, we plan to go punting.

September 24th: Alberta leaves us to go to Iceland, so Bonnie and I (as the two Harry Potter fanatics) are going to the Warner Brothers Studio Tour.  When we get home, we’ll take in a Cabaret/Burlesque show.

September 25th: Bonnie and I will visit Kensington Palace, and the V&A museum. In the evening, I catch the sleeper train to Scotland, while Bonnie remains behind for another day in London, then Paris.  I’m excited about the sleeper train – it’s something I’ve always wanted to do!

September 26th: I wake up in Edinburgh! Today I will hit all the major sites of the Royal Mile.  Including, of course, The Elephant House Cafe, where Rowling worked on her writing. In the evening, I will take a ghost/history walking tour.

September 27th: Today is my chance to get outside of Edinburgh, and see a little bit of the rest of Scotland. I’ve booked with a small group that visits Loch Ness, Glencoe, and the Highlands.

September 28th: I return to England, via the coastal train. On the way, I’ll hop off at Alnwick Castle. Some of my ancestors lived here, scenes from Harry Potter were filmed here, and they have a fabulous poison garden. Afterward, I’ll continue to York, my next destination.

September 28 – 29th: York. I have nothing specifically booked here, but this is one of those beautiful cities with fantastic history. I’ve always wanted to visit.

September 30th: Leave York for Bath, and on the way, I’ll stop at Hardwick Hall. It was built by my favorite ancestor, Bess of Hardwick – the second most interesting and dominant English woman of her time. (The first being Elizabeth I.)

October 1st: Bath. I’ve been to Bath once before, all too briefly. I have a session at the Fashion Museum’s Study Facilities. They are going to pull some extant examples of beetlewing embroidery, 1830s dresses, and maybe an Edwardian evening dress or two, and I will get to have a couple of hours of hands-on playtime. Photographs are allowed!  In the evening, I want to visit Thermae Bath Spa, and have a soak in the rooftop pool.  Bliss….

October 2nd: Daytrip from Bath to the Cotswolds. I plan on visiting several small villages and just wandering around…  Change of plans – I’m going to Cardiff instead. I plan to visit the Doctor Who Experience, for sure! At some point, I’ll be taking a hot air balloon ride over Bath. Haven’t quite decided on a time yet.

October 3rd: Train back to London. I might stop off at Salisbury on the way for a couple of hours. I just have to get back to London by 3pm for my tour of the Angels Costumiers.

October 4 – 5th: Early flight from London, and one night, two days in Venice.

October 6th: One last day in London! In the evening, I have tickets to see Raven Girl, a ballet at the Royal Opera House based on Audrey Niffenberger’s book. In the day, I plan on doing some shopping.

October 7th: Flight home.

I’m quite pleased with this itinerary – it mingles all the history, geekery, and costuming I can fit in, plus a number of things I’ve always wanted to do, and never have. It’s also a bit of a research trip, since after I publish the time travel trilogy I’m currently working on, my next two series will be Victorian Steampunk, and Elizabethan Steampunk. It will be very helpful to be able to actually see/experience the same things as my heroines. And, I’ve spent all the time I wanted, enjoying the anticipation and planning stages. I’m ready to go!


It’s been awhile since I posted anything about my Big 42nd Birthday Year Travel Plans.  A lot has changed in the world, and at this point, I’m pretty sure Egypt is going to have to wait a few more years.  Especially with this new, completely wrong-headed and immoral war with Syria we’re plotting – it just appears the region will be too unstable in 2015.  So, I am turning my attention to my back-up plan: England and Scotland.

The problem is narrowing it down.  I want to go everywhere in Great Britain!  I am trying to make it a good mix of everything I love: history, geekery, and nature.  Also, I have always wanted to sleep on a train, so naturally I’ll travel from London to Scotland via the Caledonian Sleeper train.  The little rooms are so cute.


Once in Scotland, as part of the geekery, I will visit Edinburgh’s Castle (Hogwarts!) and ride the jacobite steam train.  Any Potter fans out there will recognize this iconic moment from the film:

Glenfinnan Viaduct and the Hogwarts Express

It is believed to be one of the world’s most scenic rail trips.  It will take me to the coast town of Mallaig, where I will hop a ferry to the Inner Hebrides islands.  White sand beaches, turquoise water…sounds like the Caribbean, right?  No, it’s still Scotland!


Mull, I think, will be my home for at least a couple of days.


From Mull, it’s possible to visit Staffa, famous for Fingal’s Cave.  There is nowhere else like it in the world.  I have always wanted to go there.

4681115733_5741ec75c4_zIn addition to being stunningly gorgeous, these islands are also FULL of wildlife.  Whales, otters, and my primary focus: Puffins.

They aren’t afraid of humans, and will readily approach.  This can even happen:


I have also located the hotel chain I will stay at while in London and Edinburgh.  easyHotel.  I LOVE this concept.  What do you need in a European hotel?  A bed, a bathroom, and a super-central, clean, safe location.  Nothing else, so why pay for it?  EasyHotel is such a brilliant concept.

Maybe one night I’ll spring for the tv.

Or not.