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Thursday, June 26, 2014

Tropical Scotland

On our first visit to the United Kingdom, we spent a week in Cornwall, the southernmost peninsula of the island. We were surprised to see palm trees, apparently enabled by Gulf Stream warming. That said, we never expected to see palm trees in Scotland.

Plockton is a small village on a sheltered bay of Loch Carron. The National Trust for Scotland conservation area served as the fictional village of Lochdubh in the British dramady Hamish Macbeth, starring Scottish actors Robert Carlyle and Shirley Henderson (Moaning Myrtle from Harry Potter movies). And, so, we went.


 







We didn't recognize Plockton from Hamish Macbeth; it looked, in its own way, like Cornwall. Palm trees, lush gardens, small harbors filled with small sailboats, rowboats, and kayaks. Rocky beaches. Colorful restaurants and pubs, specializing in seafood (cullen skink sounds awful, but is a delicious haddock chowder with cream, leeks, onions, ham, and potatoes). The only reminder of the TV show was the sign for the local newspaper, where Henderson worked.

Boat house with sea eagle sculpture
Sail boats in Plockton harbor











Kayakers in wet suits
The Fish Bar




Plockton's newspaper and gift shop







Plockton corgi

Support for Scottish independence












Tuesday, June 24, 2014

"This Country Was Their Training Ground"

When a country has fought as many wars as has Great Britain, one would expect war memorials in every town, and that's certainly true of every town we visited in Scotland. Most commemorate a specific war or event, but one remains a living memorial to a group of soldiers from World War II through the recent conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan - the Commando Memorial in Spean Bridge. The memorial, dedicated to the men of the original British Commando Forces, was raised during the Second World War. It overlooks the training areas of the Commando Training Depot established in 1942 at Achnacarry Castle and Ben Nevis, the highest mountain in the British Isles.


 





Near the memorial itself is the Area of Remembrance, an open circle of tributes to commandos in more recent wars. Many bear the commando logo, the Fairbairn-Sykes fighting knife; some bear photographs, unit crests, artificial poppies, whiskey bottles, and flags.


 






 






 



 

 




Wednesday, June 18, 2014

True North


As a cyclist, I'd heard for years about the ride from Land's End, the southernmost point of Great Britain, to John O'Groats, the northernmost point. I took that as gospel - the longest ride on the mainland of the United Kingdom. Only one problem. John O'Groats is not the northernmost point; Dunnet Head is. So, off we went, from Inverness to Dunnet Head on the North Sea.



Paul's Hill Wind Farm, Moray


Set for Cialis ad or...


Water troughs for Highland cattle

Ruined cottage on the roadside...





...but given the windows, probably not a crofter's cottage


Karen at Dunnet Head marker
Dunnet Head Lighthouse






The North Sea, from Dunnet Head
John O'Groats. Note that it's 874 miles to Land's End

John O'Groats, above the bay
Ferry from John O'Groats to Orkney



Two English cyclists celebrating after riding from Land's End in 12 days





Fortrose and Culloden

On our first trip to the UK, Karen and I spent a week in Cornwall, including a visit to Land's End, the southernmost point in Great Britain, a land of wind, rain, rocky coasts, giant brown spiders in our cottage, and palm trees. Since we were in the Scottish Highlands, we decided to go to Britain's farthest north point. But, first, a visit to Culloden, and the military death of Scottish independence.

Fortrose Cathedral ruins
In a driving rain, we stopped first in Fortrose, an old cathedral town with, not surprisingly, an old cathedral. Ruins, actually. Built in the 13th and 14th centuries, it began to fall apart only 200 years later.Still visible are the effigy of Countess Euphemia and the partial effigy of Bishop Robert Cairncross.




 
Gothic arch, heavy rain

Effigy of Countess Euphemia



Partial effigy of Bishop Robert Cairncross



Memorial plaque, Fortrose Cathedral



Then, it was on to Culloden, site of the last battle on British soil (1746) and the end of the Jacobite uprising against the Hanoverian line of kings. More than 2,100 Jacobites were killed, wounded, or captured; more than 300 British forces. Bonnie Prince Charlie (Charles Stuart) and the dream of a Scottish king were over. I know that Karen will write much more about Culloden in her blog, Letters from Shenanigan Valley, but this was the next logical topic on our trip.
Boggy Culloden battlefield

We made our visit on a gray day, when the scrubby, undulating fields were as boggy as the day of the battle. The original walls which offered troops firing positions have been re-built, though lower. Blue flags mark the position of the Jacobite lines; red mark the British. Small memorials mark where Jacobite clans fought, and in the shadow of the Culloden memorial that honors all the dead, are smaller monuments to the dead of individual clans, buried on the battlefield.



Plaque on Culloden memorial

Culloden memorial in the mist





Culloden memorial cairn
















Monument to the Athols of the Highlands




Karen photographing monument to French who fought for Jacobites


Monument to the dead of Clan Mackintosh











Battle mixes the dead where they can not be separated

Flowers for Clan Munro

School trip to Culloden battlefield













It is a somber place, Culloden, a battlefield, a military graveyard, and a field of lost dreams.