Tuesday, May 19, 2015


There is a saying " Life is what happens while you a making plans".   True to this, Helen and my plans to walk the West Highland Way have been altered.....for the time being.   
Our time in Scotland has been amazing, filled with wonderful memories ....laughs until we cried, fright ( driving on the left) that had us exhausted at day's end.....sights that neither of us will ever forget.  And the walk....well, that will bring us back one day....sometime soon.

As we sit here high above the clouds on our way to Amsterdam, my jump off for the States and Helen's vacation continuation, we recall so much of the last two weeks and our Scotland adventures.  Here we share some favorite take aways.....

12 hour sleep in Edinburgh to shake off the jet lag
Excitement of meeting at SeaTac
Marks and  Spencer Scottish   All Butter Shortbread  Ginger cookies
Clean,  timely trains and buses
Wee seats....
Scottish Whisky Experience in Edinburgh ....a MUST!  
Oh those glorious warm towel racks..... OR....As we used them.....Laundry drying racks
Left hand  and right hand turns......Oh My ....Driving  on the left :-)
Sheep....lambs.....baby Month in April/May....simply delightful
Surprise castle ruins and the wee path to Cnoc Castle on Skye
Portree on SKYE....How to get lost in a a rather wee town ;-)
Multi lanes roundabouts and itty bitty pull outs on one lane roads
Wee whisky bottles for night caps.......
Beautiful afternoon immersed in the sad history of Culloden Moor
Clava Cairns...history from 4000 years
Oh the moors......WINDS!
4 seasons in a day......in an hour!
The gallantry of Sir Gallahad near Spynie Palace
Laughing ourselves silly before bed, tears streaming......
Rummikub challenges...Helen takes all!
Car picnics in the rain....train picnics on the tracks
Quickly walking AWAY from the Mama sheep giving us the stink eye....
Haggis...still a No Go!
Isle of Skye ...more sheep than people....REALLY!
The wee toast caddies.....
Whisky....... :-)
And most important, the genuine warmth and hospitality of the Scottish people....everywhere...every one  without fail.   
We come away with a sense of welcoming......Failte'

Until next time,
Kate and Helen

Saturday, May 16, 2015


Suffice it to say that the 18 years since I last  drove  on the left hand side of the road feels more like 50..... Scared,  Be OH so scared ye drivers of bonnie Scotland for you now have two American gals  traversing the country in their spiffy Skoda Fabia!

Day One....Helen, brave Helen,takes the wheel!  I admire her; I THANK her.....she is calm...she is collected....she is sweating profusely and her innards are clenching....BUT,  she shows it not......She is woman empowered!
She says she is relieved to park the damn thing and get out!  We have gone about 10 miles at this point....at an average of 20 mph ...... It has been a test!   We are alive...so is everyone else....so are the sheep on the side of the road.....SCARED....but alive.
Two hours later we take on the fearsome challenge ahead....finding our B&B in the patchwork of Inverness....a BIG city...In massive  traffic....it is  Rush hour- 5 PM....with ROUNDABOUTS!  After many a moment of " deep breath, we are fine".  We make it to Ardemanech B&B ......Just...where Helen, brave Helen, parks the car....declares she is In Fact quite " skeert of roundabouts" and calls for a whisky.....or four! I oblige....she deserves a medal.  Several whiskys  later we declare Inverness a " walking town" and leave our Fabia to rest.

Day Two.....  No longer terrified, we make it out of Inverness, barely, as I , the navigator at this point, continue  to confuse left turns ( because they do not cross traffic) with right hand turns which do......I  promptly call " Take the next Left!" And point right.....confused....we are very ,very confused.   Yet, after only a few short miles I do the deed and take the wheel.
By now we are  feeling much more secure....and do quite well until we reach a stretch of one lane road...... Which feels at least 20 miles long ( more like 5 :-) ......with pull outs ...Itttty bitttty made for Smart car sized pull outs and NEVER where we need them pull outs....and when we do find them they are pothole ridden pull outs.....more than once this day poor Helen was bounced into the car roof as I misjudged the  depth of these damned holes! The lesson in driving etiquette, pull outs and how to utilize them well, is not wasted as we firmly decide a sign in our back window alerting all to the danger they face following to close is quite In order!
Rain, wind, sleet, lack of street signs.....Helen having to yell " No No...your OTHER left" a time or two....we make it to Greshornish.....deep, deep into the back hollows on the Isle of Skye.  We have survived....once again the sheep have survived....we've got this!

Day Three........Cell memory take over...." Only twice!" She says does Helen pull into the right lane facing oncoming traffic.....".and what were you worried ride about anyway? There was no one coming!"  She tells me.   And, question: How polite shall  we be? Shall we pull into a pull out lane on the right hand side on One lane road.....hmmmmmm....tried that today too.
Thank God we have only one day left before we are on foot for 10 days.  But oh dear God, that one day includes a journey into the deepest depths of downtown Glasgow to return this fabulous  little Fabio.
And we have sweated this for the last three days......how many bloody roundabouts will there be? And if two lanes was bad, God bless us as we maneuver 5 or 6......God bless all those who drive near.....God bless the poor pedestrians.....

At least we know God has blessed the sheep....they are now safe :-)


Friday, May 15, 2015


Yesterday we spent a gloriously sunny day wandering the trails of Culloden Battlefield, site of the  final Jacobite stand against the government army.  The experience was sobering.  In effect, a culture, a heritage of a thousand years, scourged on the fields of Culloden.
True, it seems the Jacobites had pushed their luck in this final stand to reclaim the throne for Scotland. Exhausted and outnumbered after month upon month of fighting to save their homeland from British rule, their final attack fell short and within an hour the Highland clans were slaughtered.  Our emotions upon completing the walk were ones of extreme sadness.

We then drove  a couple miles to Clava Cairns, ancient burial sites dating some 4000 years.
Our initial sighting was of a lone standing stone rising from pasture land.   Upon entering the site itself,we found three distinct circular cairns. Each cairn encircled by smaller stones.....each cairn owning its own twelve larger standing stones....each standing stone ringed by smaller stones.....circle upon circle....stone upon stone......
The ancient world unfolded before us. What we learned from a local photographer, a chatty Scot  happy to share history,is that the entire valley is dotted with these sites, aligned specifically to utilize the winter and summer solstice as pathways for the dead to travel to the afterlife.

And, in the heart of all this history, our  photographer utilizes what we deemed the world's largest selfy stick....locals picnic next to ancient stones.......cows graze non chalantly on the verdant Scottish greens......old and new worlds side by side.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015


Days two and three in Elgin, the Speyside region of scotch whisky production, were spent exploring the distilleries of Glenfiddich and Glen Moray.

A short bus ride on Tuesday took us to Dufftown where we wandered ( backpacks and poles included for training!) to the grounds of Glenfiddich distillery. An hour and half tour, fun and informative, ended with a well laid out tasting session during which we sampled four different aged Glenfiddich whiskys.   Of course, it is now time to walk off the effects...so off we head along Speyside Way toward Craighallachie, and what we hoped would be a well earned luncheon , and taste of whisky, at the famed Craighallachie Hotel.  7 miles later and soaked from the onslaught of pelting rain ( our ponchos saw their first Scotland outing!) we reached our destination at 3 PM....promptly closing time for the kitchen.   As Craighallachie is not much for pubs and restaurants, we cheated, caught the bus , headed to Rothes, and rolled into a truly genuine Scottish pub, complete with Mac the pub dog, who has a haggis dog and a burger named in his honor on the menu. They too were closed, but offered Scotch broth, sandwiches and whisky.....we were home!

Today, Wednesday, we opted to skip the hiking and Instead wandered a couple miles to the  nearest distillery for their 2 PM tour and tasting.  Ian, the guide, was highly informative and friendly; a true delight complete with storytelling of recently excavated bodies dating to the 1600's found on the grounds.   Our sampling at Glen Moray included five of their aged and specialty whiskys, as well as a taste of 69 proof raw spirit.... The base alcohol which is then casked  for aging.

Tomorrow a bus to Inverness airport where we will grab our car for the next four days and head out to discover Culloden, Craigh na Dun ( if we can find it :-) and Dalmore distillery before heading to the Isle of Skye on Friday.
Days two and three in Elgin, the Speyside region of scotch whisky production, were spent exploring the distilleries of Glenfiddich and Glen Moray.

JUST in case you questioned..... :-)

And here is the lovely Ms. Linda's pink felt tip marker guide to Spyine Palace......;-)

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

JUST a wee shortcut......

After a delicious breakfast with eggs( Helen, who LOVES her morning eggs was so  happy) we  headed into Elgin centre to start our adventure...... The bank, the post office, the  grocery store,,,,just like home...how adventurous :-)

No, really, after the vacation chores we headed to visit the Elgin cathedral ruins.  A couple of hours wandering medieval stone structures dating from the '1200 s....a seat of great wealth and power in the Highlands.  The visit was quite inspiring and we were blessed with clear weather.

Lovely Ms. Linda in the Visitor center kindly sold us a joint ticket to include Spynie Palace, home to the local  bishops of the time.... Or as Helen says... The uber-bishop!  She is right.  It turned out to be a pretty damned spanky  piece of waterfront ( during its time) real estate. That said....

Lovely Ms Linda also told us of a wee shortcut which would have us there and through the back fence  of the old palace grounds inside of 1.5 miles.  After all, if we took the route that had been suggested it would be an easy three miles plus.   Lovely Ms Linda doesn't walk much.... Or own a Fitbit....NO concept of distance.  We don't know this so off we trot under gorgeous sunny skies... Totally trusting in her description of how to reach our destination via that wee shortcut. We kept following the pink felt marker line drawn on our map....sure we have saved some time.

2+ miles later, after passing many,  many sheep in open fields....and tractors....and windmills....and NO wee cottages( those were her landmarks) we happened to a crossroads, totally convinced we had taken a wrong turn. Just then, to our delight, Sir Gallahad in his trusty steed, a wee red hatchback, along with companion Alfy the border collie by his side, pulled over to confirm for us that we were indeed in the right road, to the shortcut through the fence.to Spynie Palace.  We figure we still have about a mile to go...not bad.

We waved him on his way, and within the next 30 minutes we experienced true Scottish weather.... Four seasons in day!  It rained..sideways.  It hailed...sideways. The wind blew dirt from the fields across the road and up the nostrils.....sideways!   Pants soaked, shoes soaked ...Did we bring our all -weather gear today....of course not...it was only a wee walk after all :-)

Low and behold, Sir Gallahad  reappears to offer us a ride back to Elgin if  we would like. Relieved to see we had rain  jackets on ( our only smart clothing  decision) he turned the car  around and led us to the last leg of the journey...a lovely tree lined dirt path leading to the" back 40 "of Spynie.   And, he opted to park the car and walk with us.  A chatty man, he knew of Seattle, was up on all National Lampoon movies and could discuss them at length and....knew where Wisconson is....quite proud! He escorted us to the hole in the fence and he and Alfy the  dog went on their way...after an offer to take us back to Elgin at the end of our visit.   We thanked him for his  kindness and parted.

Upon checking into the visitor center , as we had been instructed to do, we asked Ms Katie about the directions we had been given...convinced we had made a wrong turn.  Nope.  Correct directions and she confirmed the
lovely Ms. Linda certainly had no concept of distance .  We felt a bit better.  We explored Spynie Palace grounds about an hour and then headed out to face the gale winds which had reappeared , of course!   Low and behold, 300 meters down the dirt path Sir Gallahad and Alfy  re appear....at which moment it is decided we will walk back....thank Sir Gallahad politely, but walk back. Weather is easing ( well, compared to what it was) and walking is what we came for after all.  A disappointed Sir Gallahad says goodbye and heads out...honk honk...wave, wave.....Alfy  in the back end barking his good-byes.

We make it back to Elgin, via the same wee shortcut, only this time at record speed to outrun the dark clouds looming just west of us.   After all, we know we will dry out quickly, it is just rain AND we have several wee bottles of scotch whisky waiting in our room....  Perfect day!
After a delicious breakfast with eggs( Helen, who LOVES her morning eggs was so  happy) we  headed into Elgin centre to start our adventure...... The bank, the post office, the  grocery store,,,,just like home...how adventurous :-)

Saturday, May 9, 2015


So, as we sit at 11 PM, knowing we put on packs tomorrow and start the " travel with backpacks ON our backs" portion of this grand Scottish adventure, becomes clear that SOMETHING has to be left behind....here,.,,.in Edinburgh after only 1 full day.  Why?  How else do we fit the  several wee bottles of scotch whisky we bought into our already over stuffed bags?  WHERE do we put the all important Walkers shortbread?  Decisions....decisions..... :-)

Truly it has been a gorgeous day in Edinburgh complete with young bagpipers on the Royal Mile, a glorious tasting session at a whisky bar featuring over 380 scotch whiskys, beer battered fish and chips, wrapped in paper , drenched in malt vinegar.....a drizzle of rain, a warm hug of sunshine....a wonderful Scottish kind of day.....