We left the hotel in London at 6:30 am GMT and are now back in the USA. Our flight went much better than the train ride.
We're having some Ben & Jerry's waiting for our next flight.
Our train ride up to Edinburgh was in coach and very nice. Our trip back to London was upgraded to First Class. When we found our seats, they were very very nice, much more room, coffee, croissants, newspapers, free WiFi, etc. I told Linda that these train accomodations were the nicest l've seen.
Shortly after settling in, the conductor announced "This train has a brake problem and we will keep you posted on the delay". Ten minutes later he proclaimed "This train has been cancelled, proceed to track 9 for the 10 am train to London (leaving in 10 minutes). We joined the stampede to a platform 9 minutes away.... The train was packed and the doors closed while we were in the train car vestibule.
What a mess! It turned out way more people boarded than available seats... like hundreds. It became standing room only, with vestibules and aisles packed with people. The train became a carnival with good sports and rude personalities. The boys and I stood the entire 5 hour trip wedged in a corner by the door. We had about 4 square feet each (including our luggage) and got to know many Scots intimately. The girls found a few more square feet and sat on top of their luggage. Every train station stop was an exercise of contortion.
Traveling is always an adventure!
We returned to Edinburgh today to return the van and catch the train to London tomorrow morning. We successfully circumnavigated the Highlands in the left lane, without incident.
Edinburgh is a very nice city and has loads of shopping. We stopped by a kilt maker to have custom skirts made for the girls and a vest for Johnny. We were surprised to find that our clan has four different plaids. Johnny selected the Robertson hunting plaid which is predominantly blue and green.
It rained most of the day and was cool. This was the first bad day of weather.... and it really was fine in our outdoor gear. Scotland's weather forecast is quite easy; "cloudy and cool with showers and occasional outbreaks of sun, spots of heavy rain and wind possible."
Today we drove 3 hours down to Greenock to visit the city which our direct family resided. Greenock is a seaport that thrived in the mid to late 1800's. It also was seriously bombed by the Germans in WWII with thousands killed.
My father's cousin, Bob, researched our family tree about 15 years ago. I further advanced his findings, allowing us to visit many of the former homes of my grandfather, his father, and my great great grandfather. All their homes, including some of their siblings, were within blocks of each other. I could of used a time machine today!
We also found the graves of our last verifiable family, James and Annie Robertson. The grave was unmarked (too poor or vandalism?) with many grave markers nearby in sad shape. I started the process with the Scottish government to obtain title to the plot, which will allow us to place a proper grave marker.
George Robertson, an uncle of James, was the proprietor of the Tontine Hotel on Robertson Street. The hotel still operates and looks decent. However, it has lost a few rating stars with time. It is now three star, at best.
The photo of the run-down building is where my grandfather lived (1900-1910) before emmigrating with his family to Superior,Wisconsin. The flat had three rooms and a window... plenty of room for a family of five... It was about 1500 feet from a sugar refinery which was bombed and never rebuilt (ruins left intact).
We are at an excellent quaint hotel in Port Appin and the food is five star. Even though this place is small (11 rooms), the chef is apparently well known in Europe.
We elected to slow down today. I took an early morning hike and let everyone sleep in. Our late breakfast was followed by an hour walk to the point. After reading a bit, we headed to the sea town of Oban to take a boat cruise to see wildlife. Our captain (we chartered a small powerboat) was very knowledgeable and we saw salmon farms, sea eagles, lighthouses, and seals. It was an excellent afternoon on the water.
Now more reading and then dinner. Scotland is just like much of Europe.... they like to savor their dinners and make it a whole evening event.
This morning we left the Isle of Skye bound for Port Appin in the western Highlands. The drive was a big longer than anticipated.... Those darn single track roads take considerable time to transverse. We have been on single track roads 75% of the time. We had a couple "lock the brakes" events today.... As we weaved through the highlands.
On the way we stopped at Fort Williams for lunch and then visited the impressive Glencoe mountain valley... Which terminates in the Ranchor Moors, where our Robertson Clan ancestors originated. We stopped, but did not recognize any fellow clansmen.
This is the view out our hotel window.... And also the view into our hotel window....
We spent two days on the Isle of Skye and our boots saw action. The scenery was spectacular; cliffs, mountains, fiords, and wide open sea. One hike was straight up into the Cullins range. It took us four hours and the last half mile was scrambling (hiking using feet and hands on steep grades). The view from the top was amazing (photos upon return) and all of us were exhausted.
The following photo is Johnny at around 1500 feet (vertical) into the hike. We would end up in the middle of black hills behind him. Right after we got off the high ground, the area was engulfed by clouds, rain, and wind.
The Scottish are very thrifty and don't waste anything. That is evident in the food we eat, which has been exceptional. If you are not willing to eat unfamiliar food.... You will probably starve here.
So far a sampling of our meals; haggis, pigeon, venison, pigs cheek, pork belly, black pudding with pigs blood, duck eggs, sheep burger, various animal livers.... Of course haggis includes many other body parts, but they are masterfully blended together into a tasty goop. All the Robertson's liked haggis and it may become a new food at our dinner table, for all out guests to enjoy!
We visited a tannery on the Isle of Skye.... Confirming that even the carcus is processed.
Right after checking into the hotel and after lunch, we went on a significant hike to conquer Ben Damph (the peak to the right of our hotel in previous photo). Our 4 mile hike (8 mile roundtrip) was a continuous climb that was very steep at times. I'm not certain... but we climbed at least 3000 vertical feet and it took all afternoon.
The weather was cold (upper 40s) and very windy. The final 300 to 400 Vertical feet were very steep so only Olivia, Johnny, Victoria, and I pushed on. At the summit we were in 60+ knot winds and Victoria could lean into the wind without falling!
It was an incredible view.... We only stayed a few moments at the top because I was concerned about getting closed in by weather. The bottom of the clouds were only a couple hundred feet above us.
Everyone really enjoyed this hike and I was quite pleased with their stamina. They will sleep well tonight.
Today's trek across the Highlands took us to Torridon on the west coast. The terrain and scenery in this area is STUNNING. I can hardly wait to see what my photos of this area look like.
Our hotel was like a story book castle with exceptional service. This area is remote with no cell service.... But WiFi at the hotel.
Many of the roads in the Highlands are single lane (if that). The speed limits are rediculously high (60 and 70 mph), considering the roads are narrow, single lane, wind through mountains, and have many blind spots.
Passing oncoming traffic is accomplished by pulling into a "Passing Place" which are about 1/4 to 1/2 mile apart. You literally play chicken with oncoming traffic... hoping one of you pull into a PP before a collision.
I must be doing better now driving.... Olivia is back in the navigator's seat and is now telling me to slow down. The passengers are also complaining about neck aches induced by rapid deceleration into Passing Places.
These are two totally different Scottish comfort experiences. Today we visited a woolen mill and a distillery and took factory tours.
Johnstons Woolen Mill took us through the production of lambswool and cashmere products. This included carding, spinning, dyeing, weaving, cutting, and final garment processing. Johnstons is a primary supplier of wool products to the world's top fashion designers. Of course, we made a few purchases at the factory store.
Scotland has over 500 different producers of whisky. We had a great tour and tasting session at the Glenfiddich facility. Linda loved all the aroma... But wasn't too keen on the swirling, smelling, and sipping. It is definitely an acquired taste.
It was the endless roundabouts entering Inverness that put Olivia and me at odds with each other. Her shouts at me were ultimately trumped by a bus horn, leaving her disgusted with my methodical adaption to UK motoring.
Johnny is now in the front seat. With 10 more days in the Highlands.... I need to be gentler with the navigators.
Whoaaaa!!!! Hiking in the UK is much much easier than driving. I have driven in many other countries.... So, I thought I'd give it a go here. Our drive North to the Highlands was exciting...
First, instead of a quick exit from Edinburgh, our GPS managed to route us through city center and all the contourted cobblestone streets. It truly was a challenge fighting the natural instict to drive on the right.... And we did wander right a few times.
Driving on the dual carriageway was much easier, but glancing in the mirrors could be confusing. I felt like an idiot constantly looking right for a non-existent rear view mirror.
We have spent the last two days exploring Scotland's capital. The Edinburgh Castle was a rock solid attraction.... We marched down the Royal Mile..... Wandered through museums..... Browsed in Jenners, the world's oldest department store.... Our boots were never idle.
A late night "murder and mystery" guided walk was both entertaining and informative. Did you know Scotland had the most Witch execution's in the world?
We have arrived in a magical land. So far, the weather is great for sailors, ducks, and seals.... and we are fitting right in. Daytime highs are in the upper 50s with a persistent wind. The sky is continuously changeable; cloudy, then showers, then sun, then fog, then repeat.
We're properly outfitted so hiking about is actually pleasant and comfortable. However, who could resist a nice hot chocolate at the Elephant House.... Where the first Harry Potter book was penned by JK Rowlin.
Johnny wanted a real English fish and chips dinner, so we found an establishment (recommended by locals) in the Covent Garden neighborhood. The meal was good, but no English ale..... Just Czechoslovakia pilsner.....which reduced the spirit of authenticity.
Today we were certified tourists. After an early breakfast we took a Thames River cruise to London Tower to hear about all the midevil beheadings. We got out with our heads, but my wallet was much lighter.
Next we boarded a doubledecker bus and cruised about central London on the open upper deck. We stopped at Madame Tussaid's wax museum and survived the crowd. New York's museum was much better and less crowded.
The common theme today was the crowd. Everywhere we went it was extreme people density. They say Americans are rude and obnoxious..... But the Londoner's and tourists today make New Yorker's seem like gentlemen.
We marched a mile down the mall to see the Queen at Buckingham Palace. We (along with a 1000 others on her doorstep) were informed by guards that she was tired from her 60 year anniversary and the palace was closed. No tour today!
We then proceeded to a stupid crowded Westminster Abbey and elected to just walk around the outside.
Onward to the Parliament and Big Ben. Ben's chimes at the top of the hour weren't much louder than our mantel clock at home.
Next we had to check out the London Eye and was sure the line would be many hours long. To our surprise , it was only a 10 minute wait. I guess the rain and gale force winds scared off the meek. Even Spencer, who fears heights, made the ascent.
We got a late start (11 am)... I guess we needed the sleep. We headed out to the National Museum via Picadilly Circus. Olivia gave us all an art history lesson as we gazed at masterpieces.
Just outside the National Museum the kids tamed the lion in Tafalger Square.
The kids were pretty stunned when they saw our seats to London. They were very very nice. The lay flat feature would of been handy for an overnight flight.
Good flight with only a few bumps. United gave us a "Fast Pass" to bypass long lines at customs. That was a first for me.