A Travellerspoint blog

Scotland

Scottish Highlands

A one day jaunt through Pitlochry, Blair Atholl Distillery, Fort Augustus/Loch Ness, Spean Bridge, Glencoe, and Tyndrum

Greetings! Today's adventure took us on a tour of the Scottish Highlands in northern Scotland. Scotland is one of my favorite countries and Edinburgh has been one of my most favorite cities we've had the opportunity to visit. We took the train up to Edinburgh and stayed in the most amazing AirBnb in Edinburgh. The hosts had the most thoughtful touches in the flat and the location was perfect. We created a customized private tour with Highland Experience Tours and would absolutely book tours with them again. Simone was absolutely wonderful to work with and created a tour with everything on our list of must see places. Mark was our guide and driver and we could not have had a better guide. He was hilarious, insightful and fun!

Highland Experience Tours: https://www.highlandexperience.com
AirBnb: https://www.airbnb.co.uk/rooms/5805796?source_impression_id=p3_1571041311_HIY4TDUxj090zdn4

Mark picked us up at our front door and we started our journey north. The bridge on the right is the Forth Bridge which is a cantilever railway bridge across the Firth of Forth in the east of Scotland, nine miles west of Edinburgh City Centre. The Scotsmen are very proud of this bridge and it was named a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2016. Construction of the bridge started in 1882 and it was opened in March 1890.
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Here are some pictures in the car making our way up the M90. It was such a scenic ride to our first stop. Along the way Mark taught us a thing or two, like loch means "lake," ben means "hill," and glen means "valley."
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Our first stop was the village of Pitlochry and Blair Atholl Distillery. Pitlochry was a charming little village. We stopped into of the cafes for a quick bite to eat and then it was onto the distillery.
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Next, we made our way through the Cairngorms National Park and made it to Laggan Dam and and Fort Augustus and the Loch Ness area. Unfortunately, we could not find Nessie.
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Fort August/Loch Ness
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After our lunch stop in the Fort Augustus/Loch Ness area we continued on to Spean Bridge, Glencoe and Tyndrum.
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There is a Commando Memorial dedicated to the men of the original British Commando Forces during Second World War and it is located approximately 1 mile (1.6 km) north-west of Spean Bridge, the area where we stopped for pictures. It overlooks the training areas of the Commando Training Depot established in 1942 at Achnacarry Castle.
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Next it was onto Glencoe and Tyndrum. Tyndrum was probably my favorite stop. The views here are stunning.
Glencoe
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Tyndrum
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Hairy Coos also known as the Highland Cow!
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After Tyndrum, we made our way back to our AirBnb. Visiting the Highlands further reiterated why Scotland is one of my favorite countries we have had the opportunity to visit. There is so much to see here and everywhere you look the topography and scenery is stunning. I cannot wait to return!

Onto the next adventure!

Posted by LCP 23:46 Archived in Scotland Tagged loch edinburgh fort bridge tours highland experience ness blair glencoe distillery augustus atholl tyndrum spean Comments (0)

Edinburgh Castle

Edinburgh, Scotland

On our last day during our trip to Edinburgh, we went to Edinburgh Castle. This castle sits at the end of the Royal Mile. It is quite an impressive fortress.

Edinburgh Castle definitely has a different "feel" to it compared to some of the other castles we have visited. It feels more "rugged" and worn in. That could be due to the fact it has been fought over, held, and recaptured time and time again. It is reportedly the most besieged place in Great Britain. The castle sits atop Castle Rock which is a volcanic plug in the middle of Edinburgh. The rock is estimated to have formed some 350 million years ago during the early Carboniferous period. Human occupation of the rock has been traced back to the Iron Age, or 2nd century AD. A royal castle has occupied the rock since at least the reign of David I in the 12th century, and the site continued to be a royal residence until 1633. Oliver Cromwell seized the castle in in 1650. In its decline, the castle was used as a as military barracks and garrison in the 17th century and was involved in many historical conflicts from the Wars of Scottish Independence in the 14th century to the Jacobite rising of 1745. The One O'Clock Gun is fired every day at precisely 1:00pm, except Sunday, Good Friday and Christmas Day.

Edinburgh Castle: https://www.edinburghcastle.scot

Edinburgh Castle
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Views from the castle esplanade. Hundreds of "witches" were burned at the stake on the esplanade back in the day.
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Views from the Argyle Battery, facing North
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There did not seem to be a very organized way of going through the castle, so we started in the Royal Palace. We were able to see the Honours of Scotland (similar to the Crown Jewels), which consisted of the Crown (first used in 1540), the Sceptre (given to James IV in 1494), the Sword of State (given to James IV by Pope Julius II in 1507), and also The Stone of Destiny (a large block of sandstone traditionally believed to have been part of a royal bench-throne that held sacred powers). Edward I of England removed the stone in 1296 during his Wars of Independence and sent it to Westminster Abbey. The Stone was used in coronation ceremonies of most monarchs of England, and beginning in 1714, all rulers of Great Britain. The Stone was returned to Scotland on the 700th anniversary of its removal and will only ever be removed when there is a coronation in Westminster Abbey. Unfortunately, no pictures were allowed of these items.

David's Tower
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Where the Honors of Scotland were hidden during World War II
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Scottish flag
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Fireplace in Laich Hall. At the end of Laich Hall, was a little manned kiosk where you could find the history of European family names and the coat of arms. We did this and it was quite fun and I would totally recommend it. Unfortunately, we were not allowed to take photos, I am imagining because they want you to buy the histories, which we ended up doing.
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When Mary, Queen of Scots, fled from Palace of Holyroodhouse, she came to Edinburgh Castle and gave birth to James VI and I in a tiny room known as the Birthchamber. James VI was the only known monarch to have been born at Edinburgh Castle.
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After exiting the Royal Palace, we entered Crown Square and came to The Great Hall.

The Great Hall. The Great Hall had an impressive display of military arms and armor, but unfortunately, I could not get a lot of decent pictures without a bunch of people in them.
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Stained glass windows in the Great Hall
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This iron-barred opening next to the fireplace in the Great Hall is called Laird's Lug, which served as a peephole for the king so he could spy or eavesdrop on his courtiers. Trust issues, anyone? Apparently the KGB was concerned about Laird's Lug and requested it be sealed prior to Mikhail Gorbachev's visit in 1984. Paranoid much?
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Following The Great Hall, we went into the Scottish National War Memorial. This memorial was excellent and reminded me of some of the memorials we saw in the cathedrals in London.
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We also went into the Military Prison, the Prisons of War, the Regimental Museums and the National War Museum. All four were very crowded and we couldn't really see much because the spaces were so small, with single entry and exit points.

View from a lookout near the prisons
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This castle somewhat disappointed me, mainly because of the crowds. We got there as soon as the castle opened to avoid the crowds, which clearly everyone else did. The crowds made me feel like I was at Disney World. There didn't seem to be as many rooms open as there have been in other castles and palaces and nearly all of the rooms all had single entry and exit points, which was annoying. I did enjoy the history of the castle, especially the royal connections. I definitely learned a lot about the kings and queens of Scotland, which I had no prior knowledge of.

Onto the next adventure!

Posted by LCP 09:34 Archived in Scotland Tagged edinburgh queen castle mary crown jewels scottish scots Comments (0)

Palace of Holyroodhouse

Edinburgh, Scotland

Our second day in Edinburgh, we took a short walk to Palace of Holyroodhouse, which sits across from the Scottish Parliament and next to Holyrood Park.

The Palace of Holyroodhouse, also known as Holyrood Palace, is the official residence of the British Monarch, Queen Elizabeth II, in Scotland. It is located along the Royal Mile in Edinburgh, at the opposite end to Edinburgh Castle. It has served monarchs since the 16th century. The Queen spends one week here at the beginning of the summer to carry out her engagements. Unfortunately, we were not allowed to take photos inside of the palace, but I was able to get some pictures of the entrance, the gardens and Abbey. The Palace is probably most known for the murder of David Rizzio, Mary, Queen of Scots', secretary in 1566. The murder was organized by Henry, Lord Darnley, the Queen's second husband. He was extremely jealous of Rizzio's influence over Mary. Mary was at the time pregnant with Lord Darnley and her only child, the future James VI and I. There is a blood stained spot in the Queen's Outer Chamber that is marked as the spot where Rizzio was murdered. It was quite creepy to still see the spot there, honestly. After her secretary's murder, Mary fled Holyroodhouse for Edinburgh Castle.

The tour was fantastic, I just wished we could have taken pictures. It definitely felt more cozy than other palaces and had a more masculine decor, but still tasteful in my opinion. During the tour we were able to see: the Forecourt, the Quadrangle, the Great Stair, the Royal dining room (this room had a beautiful pastel green color theme), the Throne Room (two upholstered throne chairs for King George V and Queen Mary were in here), the Evening Drawing Room (this room had fantastic tapestries on the walls), the Morning Drawing Room, because you can't draw into the evening drawing room in the morning, (this room had a beautiful mahogany settee covered with silk and wool embroidery, and I believe this room is where the Queen gives private audiences to dignitaries), the King's Bedchamber, the King's Closet, the Great Gallery (there were dozens of wonderful paintings lining the walls of this room), the Queen's Lobby, the Queen's Ante-Chamber, the Queen's Bedchamber, and the Mary, Queen of Scots' Chambers (which are located in James V's tower). Mary's Bedchamber had a view of the forecourt. The Outer Chamber had a nice display of relics including the Darnley Jewel and some of Mary's embroidery work from when she was exiled by Elizabeth I.

Palace of Holyroodhouse: https://www.rct.uk/visit/palace-of-holyroodhouse

Forecourt of Palace of Holyroodhouse
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Gardens to the left of the entrance
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View of the Holyrood Park to the right of the entrance
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The Quadrangle
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Remains of Holyrood Abbey. Holyrood Abbey is a ruined abbey of the Canons Regular in Edinburgh, Scotland. The abbey was founded in 1128 by King David I.
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View from Holyrood Abbey into the Gardens
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Gardens
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Despite not being able to take pictures, I really enjoyed the palace tour and would most definitely return. I would recommend going when they open to avoid crowds. We did go when they opened and there was a line.

Onto Edinburgh Castle...

Posted by LCP 00:41 Archived in Scotland Tagged edinburgh palace of queen abbey mary holyroodhouse lord holyrood scots rizzio darnley Comments (1)

The Royal Yacht Britannia

Edinburgh, Scotland

After arriving in Edinburgh, we dropped our luggage off, grabbed an Uber and headed to the Royal Yacht Britannia. This was an absolute must see for me in Edinburgh since it has a royal connection and I have a new obsession with royal history.

If I am being proper, technically the vessel is called the Royal Yacht Britannia, and was the former royal yacht of Queen Elizabeth II from 1954 until 1997. The Royal Yacht was originally going to be built for King George VI, the Queen's father, but he died a day after plans for the ship were confirmed, so the Queen oversaw the commissioning of the yacht. It was constructed in John Brown & Co shipyards, one of the most famous shipyards in the world, with the keel being laid in 1952. Britannia is moored in the historic Port of Leith in Edinburgh. The yacht has travelled more than a million nautical miles around the globe, including to Chicago, Illinois. Britannia was designed to be able to be converted into a hospital ship if necessary, but this capability was never used. When the yacht was on royal duties, it was escorted by a Royal Navy warship. US Presidents Dwight D. Eisenhower, Gerald Ford, Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton were welcomed aboard, respectively. Prince Charles and the late Princess Diana took their honeymoon cruise on Britannia in 1981. In 2011, Zara Phillips (the Queen's granddaughter) and Mike Tindall held their pre-wedding drinks reception onboard the yacht. A retired Rolls-Royce Phantom V state car used by the Queen from the early 1960s until 2002 is parked in the purpose-built garage aboard Britannia. The Queen's former racing yacht Bloodhound is berthed next to the yacht. The decommissioning of the yacht in December 1997 was very emotional for everyone. The tour gave you the feeling that Britannia was a sanctuary for the royals. Britannia is now part of the Royal Yacht Britannia Trust.

The Royal Yacht Britannia Website: https://www.royalyachtbritannia.co.uk

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Bow of the yacht
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Attempting to get a full view of the yacht
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The Britannia is berthed in Leith Port at Ocean Terminal. Ocean Terminal is a mall and the entrance to the yacht started from the mall. It was quite unusual to begin the tour this way. Our tour of the Britannia started in the Bridge.
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In no particular order, we'll start with the Royal apartments:
The Queen's Room
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The Duke's Room
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The Queen's Sitting Room
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The Duke's Sitting Room
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The Honeymoon Suite with the only double bed onboard the Britannia.
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State dining room
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Example of the Queen's place setting
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Artifacts from State dining room
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Anteroom. The bookshelf in the corner of the picture was taken from the Victoria & Albert III. The Victoria & Albert III preceded Britannia as the Royal Yacht. Royal Yachts date back to 1660 and King Charles II's Mary, which was a gift from Amsterdam. In all, there have been 83 Royal Yachts.
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State Drawing Room
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Welmar grand piano form the State Drawing room, which reportedly cost 350 GBP.
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The Sun Lounge was reportedly the Queen's favorite room onboard the ship.
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The royals were separated from the crew, whose quarters were not as glamorous.
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The yacht's sick bay
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Laundry room
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When the Queen went ashore, she used the royal barge. There were two vehicles onboard in the garage for the Queen to use. The Land Rover and the Rolls-Royce. The vehicles had to be hoisted into a special transporter to be lowered onto the ground. The Rolls-Royce's bumpers had to be removed for the vehicle to be hoisted. Later on, it was realized a suitable vehicle could be found for the Queen in the country she was visiting, so they rarely took the Rolls-Royce onboard and turned the garage into a beer store.
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As we walked around, we noticed a few interesting signs.
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The Royal Racing Yacht Bloodhound berthed next to Britannia
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I really enjoyed the tour of the Britannia. It really felt much more personal than some of the palaces and castles belonging to the royal family. There were two fantastic guides onboard, Tim and Andrew, who were so helpful and nice and entertained several questions from us. I wouldn't mind going back for another visit at some point.

Onto the Palace of Holyroodhouse...

Posted by LCP 08:32 Archived in Scotland Tagged edinburgh ocean yacht terminal royals britannia leith bloodhound Comments (0)

Edinburgh

Scotland

Greetings! Our next adventure took us to Edinburgh, Scotland for a few days. For those of us who are pronunciation-challenged Edinburgh is pronounced E-din-burrah. Edinburgh is the capital of Scotland. We took the train up, which took about four hours in total. One could also drive to Edinburgh via the A1. I'm a fan of the trains, so I will always choose the trains over driving! The train ride was quite scenic. On the ride up we stopped in Durham and Newcastle, which both looked like really cool cities to visit. The train paralleled the shore as we crossed over to Scotland and we had some fantastic views of the North Sea. The topography in Scotland was much different than in England. Scotland definitely had more dramatic landscapes and was much hillier than anything we have seen in England so far.

We had quite a bit packed into the few days we were there, so I will probably break out each major site separately. Our first day, we went to The Royal Yacht Britannia. The second day we went to the Palace of Holyroodhouse. And on the third day we went to Edinburgh Castle. Here I will focus on our exploration of the city of Edinburgh. Edinburgh is the second most populous city in Scotland the seventh overall most populous city in the United Kingdom. Edinburgh has been recognized as the capital of Scotland since the 15th century. The earliest human habitation of Edinburgh has been dated back to 8500 B.C. Enough of the history lesson, let's get on to more exciting things!

After arriving, we had a 20 minute walk from the station to our hotel. We stayed at the The Terrace Hotel in Edinburgh. The hotel is on Royal Terrace and was designed by William Playfair around 1820. Royal Terrace connects with Regent Terrace and Calton Terrace to form the longest continuous building of Georgian architecture in Edinburgh. Our room was quite spacious and we had a beautiful view of the gardens at the hotel. The location of the hotel was great for getting to all of the different sites on our list and near restaurants. It was definitely a quieter part of Edinburgh, which I enjoyed. The breakfast at the hotel was good and the staff were very friendly (it was a family run hotel). From the hotel, it took about 20 minutes to get to most of the sites. The only time we didn't walk was to get to the yacht which was at Ocean Terminal. For that, we used Uber, which was fantastic. We had great experiences with Uber drivers in Edinburgh. We also could not have gotten nicer weather during our trip.

Terrace Hotel: https://www.terracehotel.co.uk/index.php

Hotel cupola
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View from room
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View of the North Sea from Leith Docks
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We were able to get to several famous Edinburgh sites. The first full day we were in Edinburgh we had tickets to Palace of Holyroodhouse (a separate post will follow on that site). On our journey to the palace we walked past the Burns Monument which is a nod to Scotland's national poet, Robert Burns, and the Scottish Parliament building. The Scottish Parliament building is across the street from the entrance to the Palace. After the palace, we walked through Holyrood Park and saw Arthur's Seat, but unfortunately did not make it up to the top. That just means we'll have to go back, ha! Arthur's Seat is the highest point of the park and is part of four hill forts dating back over 2000 years ago.

Robert Burns Monument
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Scottish Parliament
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Holyrood Park
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View from Holyrood Park looking over towards the palace. The Nelson Monument is in the background atop Calton Hill. The monument was erected to commemorate Lord Horatio Nelson and his victory over the Spanish and French fleets in the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805. It was constructed between 1807 and 1815.
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Edinburgh city views
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Greyfriars Bobby in Old Town. Greyfriars Bobby was a Skye Terrier famous for guarding the grave of his owner for 14 years...talk about loyalty. You are supposed to rub his nose for good luck. He is so famous, Disney made a movie about him. Please excuse the random humans invading the picture.
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Some things Scotland is known for: whisky (obviously, and in Scotland it's spelled without the "e") and wool and cashmere. You can find some really good deals on wool and cashmere on the Royal Mile, which is the main shopping street in Edinburgh. There were also two excellent whisky shops along the Royal Mile: Robert Graham and Cadenhead's. The staff in both shops were extremely helpful and were very knowledgable and enjoyed educating shoppers about whisky. There were tons of restaurants on the Royal Mile, and we really enjoyed the staff and food at The Royal McGregor. The were very helpful, service was excellent and the food was fantastic. Some other lesser known Scottish things are Scottish marble and the quiach. Scottish marble is a greenish compound formed during the metamorphosis of limestone in the Highlands. It has been revered since the sixth century for its sacred and healing powers and prized by jewelers since the Victorian era. Scottish marble can be found on the facade of Westminster Cathedral in London. Quaich, pronounced "quake" is a two-handled drinking cup or bowl used for guests for welcoming drinks.

Views from the Royal Mile
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The Royal McGregor: https://www.royalmcgregor.co.uk

Whisky Shops:
Rober Graham: https://www.robertgraham1874.com
Cadenhead's: https://www.cadenhead.scot

We also managed to make it to the National Museum of Scotland and the Scottish National Galleries. Both places were free, but a small donation was appreciated. The museum was near the Greyfriars Bobby monument was extremely large and reminded me of the London National History Museum. It had a lot of family exhibits, but I most enjoyed the exhibits on Scottish history, which were nicely done. The National Gallery was located near Edinburgh Castle. It was smaller and cozier, but the artwork was fantastic. I especially enjoyed the small room of Nicolas Poussin paintings.

Two other restaurants worth noting were: The Hard Rock Cafe in Edinburgh and The Brass Monkey. Although cliche, the Hard Rock Cafe had excellent service and the food was good. And who doesn't want to collect all of the Hard Rock t-shirts! The Brass Monkey was very eclectic and the best part was they allowed dogs inside of the pub!

Our train ride back was interesting. We had seats next to a very nice Scotsman from Aberdeen, who talked the entire train ride home. He was very nice and I quite enjoyed his Scottish accent, but my introverted self was worn out after four hours of non-stop chatting.

Overall, I really enjoyed Scotland and cannot wait to go back. The people were so friendly and helpful. There is so much to do and see and it is a gorgeous country. I am looking forward to going back to see more castles and do some tours of the Highlands.

Onto the Britannia...

Posted by LCP 10:48 Archived in Scotland Tagged whisky edinburgh castle parliament nelson yacht royal mile wool marble cashmere bobby holyrood burns britannia greyfriars Comments (1)

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