Day 11. What a beautiful day. Blue skies. Sunshine. In the 70’s. A little heavenly really.
As much as I love road trips, I don’t feel like I’ve experienced a place – really connected with a place – until I’m outside, breathing its air, walking its paths. So this day, as we hiked the hills of the Quiriang (pronounced kuh-rang) and walked along country roads and climbed through fairy pools, I felt alive. Alive in Scotland. The clear skies and warm sun probably helped a bit, too.
Coastal Views Everywhere
We started with a drive up the eastern coast of Skye toward the Quiraing, and watched the sun break through the clouds to the east, kiss the water and turn it silver. On the horizon, rows of mountains faded into lighter and lighter shades of blue.
Old Man of Storr
We drove by the legendary Old Man of Storr, an unusual rock formation jutting up from the hillside, which can be seen for miles and miles. When surrounded by these kinds of things, one begins to understand why the Scots so easily believe in fairies and sprites.
Next stop: Kilt Rock. Just look.
Gorgeous right? These pics were a favorite among family and friends on social media. Some day I would love to see these cliffs from the water, but for now this will do.
We didn’t have a lot of time to dilly-dally (I’m going to claim that’s a term a picked up in the UK) because we wanted to walk the Quiraing, and apparently, with one single lane road in and out, the place gets a little crazy between 10am and 4pm. And remember…we were driving the Red Dragon. So onward and upward we went.
I find myself putting off these last few posts. Partly because the vacation glow has almost entirely faded, and I’m fully back to what we know as “the grind”. But mostly, I think, because I feel completely, wholly, entirely, incapable of conveying to you the beauty and wonder of this place known as the Isle of Skye.
On the Way
Having driven the northern route days before, we took the southern route along Loch Ness toward the Isle of Skye. On the way we stumbled upon cafes nestled in the trees, little paths to the loch, waterfalls and this bridge which captivated us all:
He’s waving away the midges not waving at me.
In one small town, we were waved over to the shoulder by a police officer passing by in his car. When he came alongside the red dragon, he told us we had to wait for an oncoming extra-wide load to pass. “Extra-wide load” may have been an understatement. More like “super-massive-immense-ginormous-extra-wide-and-extremely-long” load. These babies mystified us for a day or two:
The looked like airplane wings without the flap, lights or anything mechanical at all. Then, a couple days later, while discussing alternative energy sources, I shouted, “Hey! I bet that’s what those big white things were! Windmill arms!!!” Because there’s LOTS of windmills on this windy island.
Not gonna lie. I was pretty proud of myself. #winning
Finally in Skye
Just before arriving in Portree, the capital of the Isle of Skye, we stopped at the Aros Visitor Center so Jean could ask some questions about the various sights in Skye. But funny thing…in Scotland, just about any place can call themselves a Visitor Center. Even if they have absolutely no information helpful to visitors at all, except perhaps to point them to the real visitor center, which is where we went after lunch. I had a pretty tasty grilled cheese (or “toastie” in Scot) and if I’d known that would be the best meal I would have for the next three days, I might have savored it a bit more.
Soon I will be coming to the most anticipated part of our Scotland road trip, the Isle of Skye. But first, can we take a moment to chat about laundry? Specifically, the adventure of doing laundry in the UK?
About halfway through our trip, while in Inverness and the Isle of Skye, we stayed in rental homes instead of hotels. Excellent timing for doing laundry. One would think, anyway.
Laundry Adventure, the First
Our first rental home slept 12 – 14 people.
From which one might easily conclude that said home would include at least one washer and dryer. Our last rental home in Orlando slept 18 and came with two, not one but TWO, super-size washers and TWO super-size dryers. But that was America. And this was Scotland.
The house in Inverness did, thankfully, have a washer and dryer. We located the front loading washer straight away. (See how I got all British on you there?) Yes, we found the washer straight away. Now it was a small washer. But that’s to be expected because pretty much everything is smaller in Europe. (Except the beers. The beers are definitely bigger.) We bought a German dishwasher a few years ago and for the longest time, I called it my mini-dishwasher. But the machine washes so well and so quietly, I grew to love the tiny little thing. So I was expecting smaller, yet good quality appliances.
But where the heck was the dryer? We figured they couldn’t possibly have a clothesline with the kind of rain they get. Finally, after searching for 20 minutes…maybe longer…we found the dryer, which had been right before our eyes the entire time. Why, you ask? Because the washer and dryer were actually one and the same machine.
Yes. I am serious. That is actually a thing. One machine that actually washes and dries your clothes. One tiny machine for both washing and drying.
And yes. Yes. YES! They could have made room for a dryer somewhere in the 3000 square feet of house. Even a stackable would do.
We were so stunned you would have thought we’d just stumbled on an alien civilization. What? Why? How? Why? Trying to wrap our brains around the scientific wonder that is the washerdryer combo, Jean and I started to explore the functionality. We’d already come to accept that the machines…I mean machine….was small and that, as a result, doing laundry would require more time.
And we were slowly accepting that if we wanted clean socks and underwear (which, in case you’re wondering, we did) we would need to entrust our clothes to this foreign machine of the future…or the past…maybe it was new-fangled thing that went bust. I mean, a logical person would have to assume that a machine that both washes (makes clothes wet) and dries (makes clothes unwet) will have to sacrifice the quality of at least one of those two actions. Right?
OK, well whatever. We moved past that. And we started analyzing symbols and pressing buttons (come to think of it, we were kind of deciphering alien technology) and here’s the kicker guys: to wash and dry one (miniature) load of laundry would take five hours. Five hours! FIVE HOURS!!!!!! FOR ONE. TINY. LOAD. OF LAUNDRY.
HOW DO THESE PEOPLE LIVE?!?!?!
Do they have real washers and dryers in their own homes? If not, how often do they wash their clothes? Do they actually wash their clothes? Do they wear disposable underwear? Do they wear underwear at all? Do they wrap their kids in plastic? HOW DO THEY DO IT????!!!!
OK. OK. Well I’ll tell you what we did: a grand total of two loads of laundry in that house, almost entirely consisting of socks and underwear. The best part was seeing Doug’s jeans. Maybe it was the small tub and lack of fabric softener but his jeans came out of the washerdryer wrinkled like crumpled newspaper and so stiff they practically stood up on their own.
Jean and Steve opted to wait until we got to the house at the Isle of Skye. A risky choice if you ask me. Which you didn’t. But you’re going to find out anyway.
Laundry Adventure, the Second
Isle of Skye. Our house there was located on a hill overlooking a firth. Absolutely stunning views. Cute little home. Nice neighbors.
But the laundry situation? Well, the clothes line out back should have been our first clue. The second clue? Our towels…rolled up nicely and placed in our bedrooms. When I picked ours up off the bed and moved them to a dresser, I noticed they seemed a little damp. Nah, I thought. They’re probably just cold.
We found the washer. And no joke guys…NO JOKE…it was smaller than the previous washer. More like a half washer really. Looking at the half washer from the front, it seemed normal enough, but look from the side and you’d see that the half washer was indeed only about 12 inches deep. I AM NOT KIDDING.
HOW DO THESE PEOPLE LIVE????!!!!
The dryer? Oh we found it, alright. Folded up next to the washer. A drying rack. (In the very space large enough to house an electric dryer.) Oh and there was a hanging rack above the washer. And of course the clothesline.
Thaaaaaat explains the damp towels. After my shower that night, I used one of those towels, which provided enough absorbancy to dry my face and left arm.
Clotheslines are nice, I guess. Charming. Economical. Effective even…in places like New England in summer or the mid-west or the desert. You know…places where the sun shows her face and the sky DOESN’T RAIN 364 DAYS OF THE YEAR!!!!!
Let me ask you, are these people just so used to the rain that they’ve completely given up the fight? Just thrown in the towel? (Though not in a dryer, obviously!) Has dampness become a way of life for the Scots? Do they just think, why bother? I’m going to get wet again later anyway.
Oh, we used the teeny, weeny washer. And the drying racks. And when that didn’t work, the clothesline. Which made the whole washerdryer combo in Inverness seem like a luxury appliance.
Thankfully, we had beautiful weather those two days. Even so, when we drove away toward Fort William, we did so with damp clothes in the van.
Why, Scotland? WHY?! There are better ways to live!!!
God bless America. Land of washers and dryers. Big ones. Fast ones. Separate ones.
Guys, I’m so freaking tired. One of our family mottos is “Work hard. Play hard.” We didn’t choose that motto, like, “Hey, we value you hard work and fun so let’s live at the speed of light.” No, it’s more like we woke up one day and realized, “Wow. We work hard. And we play hard. Even our vacations are intense.”
But how else do you vacation in a country you may never visit again? On the go, morning ‘til night…I wouldn’t have it any other way. And you should see Jean and Steve in action. I hope I have as much energy, enthusiasm and fortitude as they do when I’m in my 70’s! Heck, I hope I have as much energy as they do now!
And I mean that ever so much more after our 16-hour tour to and from the Orkney Isles.
We left for the bus station at 5:50am to be there by 6:45am, to exchange our voucher for tickets. Because that’s what the instructions told us to do. But we arrived at the bus station at around 7:10 to find that the station office doesn’t open until 7:45. So we waited. And waited. And waited. Fighting off some very bold and big sea gulls in the meantime.
The coach bus eventually arrived around 7am. I think our tour guide – if you can call him that – has probably chosen the wrong profession. Socially awkward and having missed a shower or two, this guy only spoke to us when absolutely necessary and if he was speaking about sites along the way, he sounds as though he was reading from a script.
Scotland’s Landscape: Unique and Familiar
As we drove through towns, parks and cities of Scotland, I often asked myself “What does this remind me of? How would I describe this to people?” Well…I think I’ve got something:
The landscape of Scotland combines the best of coastal California, inland New England and coastal Maine. (Remember, I’m talking landscape here, not weather. We’ll get to that another day.)
Like New England in summer, Scotland is green – green trees, green grass, green underbrush, green moss – all attributed to the copious amounts of rain that fall year-round. When driving through some parts of Scotland, particulary the lowlands, I easily forgot I was in another country, and rather felt like I was cruising through the Berkshires, Vermont or New Hampshire. So many familiar looking trees, rolling hils, sheep and cow farms.
No wonder early immigrants named New England and Novia Scotia (translated “New Scotland”) as they did. And I’ve been to Novia Scotia, in particular Cape Breton, and yes, that area does look like Scotland. Perhaps I should have started with that comparison…. But for those of you who have never been to Cape Breton – which I’m assuming is most of you – I will continue.
Elgin Cathedral We left Aberdeen for the northern city of Inverness, and on the way, we stopped at Elgin Cathedral. Abandoned after the reformation, the cathedral lies in ruins. Isn’t it interesting that we find ruined things so interesting…so beautiful? What does that mean for us, on those days when we feel like our lives lie in ruins? Something to think about. I obviously don’t have time to explore that question today. I’m a zillion days behind on my blog.
Somehow, the rain seemed fitting as we walked among the broken pillars, the moss covered stone, the floating archways and the gravestones.
PC: Christina from the tower
That’s Doug and Christina in the balcony.
Doug, Christina and Jacquelyn on top of the tower
Teeny tiny doors
A Family Find One reason Jean wanted to come to the town of Elgin was to find information about her ancestors, some of whom lived in nearby Belle Moray. (Have I mentioned that Jean’s a genealogist?) So imagine her disappointment when she arrived and discovered that the town flooded years ago and still lay deep under water.
So today we decided to “take it easy” which meant not leaving the hotel until 10am. Everyone would really like a day to rest and relax but there’s so much to see and so little time.
Pitmedden Garden Greeted by a bright, sunny morning, we drove about 30 minutes to Pitmedden Garden, an estate that dates back hundreds of years. One of the first things Jacquelyn said when we arrived: “Anyone else feel like they’re on Downton Abbey?”
Designed and maintained in a style reminiscent of the Victorian era, the gardens both soothe and inspire. Sunshine and temperatures in the low 60’s made this a perfect day for strolling through the various gardens, sitting on benches, taking photographs.
At my wedding, people kept asking Doug “How did you get Sean Connery to come to your wedding?” They were referring to my grandfather, Thomas Mansfield Creighton I. And he really did look a lot like Sean Connery.
My grandfather was very proud of his Scottish heritage. On his 80th birthday, we surprised him with a bagpiper. As the piper entered the room, my grandfather stood up and leaned on his cane, listening with tears in his eyes. That’s one of my favorite memories of him.
So coming to Scotland, and visiting Crichton Castle (Creighton is a variation of Crichton), felt a bit like having my grandfather with me.
We arrived at Crichton Castle first thing Tuesday morning, beneath steel gray, low lying clouds. Located in a small town, this castle would be impossible to find without the signs or a GPS.
At the end of a residential country road, through narrow turns lined with high stone walls, lies the Crichton Church and just beyond that, a trail to the castle. Rolling hills, a patchwork of farmland and sheep pastures, surround the castle in every direction.
A view from the path to the castle
We arrived at the castle around 9:30am and were the only people there. This prompted the caretaker, a stout, gray-haired man, to offer to share the castle history with us. And of course, we said yes!
Because of Edinburgh’s annual Fringe festival and the crowds that come with it, we opted for a taxi ride into the city. Our driver brought us up the narrow, cobblestone streets of the Royal Mile, right to the castle gate. For only £25…just like royalty.
Guys, I hardly know where to begin. Passing through the gates of Edinburgh Castle felt like traveling back in time, or like being in a Disney castle…only Edinburgh Castle is real. And real people walked those halls, century after century. And for a few short hours, we walked in their footsteps.
I’ll get the bad stuff over with: the worst part was the crowds. So so so many people in tight hallways and poorly organized lines, which felt worse than the crowds at Disney World on New Year’s Eve. Also, the tattoo stadium seating covers a significant portion of the castle esplanade so that we couldn’t see the entrance as it stands the other 11 months of the year. But we had so much to do and see that neither the crowds nor the obstructed view of the esplanade could squelch our excitement.
I could talk about this all day, so I will leave you with my favorite experiences instead:
Visiting the chapel, the oldest building in Edinburgh, standing since the 1100’s
Seeing the Scottish crown jewels which had been sought for centuries by Scotland’s enemies who wished to destroy them, and the Stone of Destiny. No photography allowed 😦
Standing in the room where Mary Queen of Scots gave birth to her only son.
Pretty walls in the very small room where Mary Queen of Scots gave birth
The view from that same room (minus the cars of course)
The prisons where POW’s from the American revolution were held captive.
Finding our ancestors name and title “William Crichton, Chancellor” and crest in the stained glass windows of the Great Hall.
The Royal Mile A mile-long cobblestone street connecting the low-lying Holyrood Palace to the towering castle of Edinburgh, the Royal Mile is lined with shops, restaurants, museums and, in August, street performers, artists, revelers, tourists…pretty much everyone.
Not everyone knows this about me but I love accents. So much so that my family can predict how much I’m going to like…well…just about anyone…based on whether or not that person has an accent. My favorite accents are Indian, British and Scottish, which means I could basically sit in a coffee shop for the next two weeks listening to people talk and this vacation would be a win. Even so, I’m glad we’re doing more than sitting at a coffee shop for two weeks.
The Highland Games We started Sunday at the Bridge of Allan Highland Games. Bagpipers, bagpipers and more bagpipers. Also, itty-bitty highland dancers and a birds of prey exhibit.
This guy loves birds
We had to leave before the heavyweight competitions began, which was a major bummer but we still had two castles to visit, both over an hour away from our hotel. And for some reason, everything in Scotland closes before 6pm, killing our sightseeing window…but also forcing us to end our days earlier than we would in say, Disney World or New York City or Boston. So Scotland, our feet thank you.
Campbell Castle Our next stop was Jean’s (Doug’s mom) family castle, the Castle Campbell. Did I mention that Sunday’s weather included gale force winds? Literally. A trees-down-in-the-road, bridges-closed kind of wind. But we climbed over the river and through the woods (quite literally) to grandmother’s castle anyway!