A Travellerspoint blog

September 2011

A Trek Thru the British Isles IX- Loch Ness, Scotland

Driving through the Scottish Highlands and a tour of Urquhart Castle and Loch Ness

We arrived at the port of Invergordon and Inverness, Scotland after a relaxing and much needed day of rest at sea on the Crown Princess cruise ship. Inverness is known as the capital of the Highlands and is the primary city and shopping centre of the area. It has a great location on the River Ness at the northern end of the Great Glen. In summer it is packed with visitors intent on monster hunting at nearby Loch Ness, but it is also an interesting place to visit.

I left the Crown Princess alone early to board a tour bus for the 1 hour trip to Urquhart Castle and Loch Ness. Mom decided to spend the day on the ship after nonstop touring of back to back ports on our 12 day British Isles Cruise. Our tour guide for the day looked like something right out of a movie, dressed in a kilt with long hair and a scruffy beard. I knew right away this was going to be a fun day!

Tour Guide Ian and our tour bus driver
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We left the port and headed out into the lush Scottish Highlands and the outskirts of the city of Inverness. It was an overcast and somewhat windy day but the scenery was still beautiful. During the drive our tour guide Ian told us about the history of the area and I enjoyed listening to his thick Scottish accent. Ian had a wicked sense of humor and had us laughing all day long. Robert the Bruce of Bravehart fame was a particular topic of interest to Ian. Having never seen the movie, I listened with rapt attention to the story of this Scottish King.

King Robert I, known as Robert the Bruce, was King of Scots from March 25, 1306, until his death in 1329. He became one of Scotland's greatest kings, as well as one of the most famous warriors of his generation, eventually leading Scotland during the Wars of Scottish Independence against the Kingdom of England. He claimed the Scottish throne as a fourth great-grandson of David I of Scotland, and saw the recognition of Scotland as an independent nation during his reign. Today in Scotland, Bruce is remembered as a national hero. His body is buried in Dunfermline Abbey, while his heart is buried in Melrose Abbey. His embalmed heart was to be taken on crusade by his lieutenant and friend Sir James Douglas to the Holy Land, but only reached Moorish Granada, where it acted as a talisman for the Scottish contingent at the Battle of Teba. Mel Gibson ignited new interest in Robert the Bruce when he portrayed him in the movie Bravehart several years ago. According to Ian, the movie was not entirely accurate, but it did show King Robert as the heroic man that he was.

Scottish Highlands
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Village in the Scottish Highlands
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Before too long we arrived at Urquhart Castle and Loch (Lake) Ness. The ruins of Urquhart Castle, once one of largest strongholds of medieval Scotland, is an impressive structure overlooking Loch Ness. It's also the home of the legendary "Nessie" sea monster. In 1933, an enterprising editor in Inverness enlivened a slow news week with the story of an odd sighting in Loch Ness. The legend of the Loch Ness Monster grew overnight. Legend says that the Loch Ness Monster inhabits a cave beneath the ruins of Urquhart Castle. The site of the castle was already overrun with tourists when we got there. There was a very nice visitors center and gift shop in front of the castle where I found store employees giving out samples of Scottish whisky, coffee and other highland goodies. After tasting a few samples, I took some photos and video of the grounds before heading down a steep hill to the ruins and the shores of Loch Ness.

Links to my 2 Videos from Loch Ness are here at my Travels With Gerri You Tube video channel:

Video of the Castle at Loch Ness Scotland

Video of Loch Ness Shoreline in Scotland

I walked over to the castle and took some photos before a nice man offered to take my picture for me.

Me at the Castle and Loch Ness, Scotland
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Urquhart Castle ruins
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Tourists enjoying the Loch Ness and Castle ruins
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From the shores of Loch Ness I walked back up to the Visitors Center to shop for souvenirs. I bought some Scottish Whisky and some post cards. I was tempted to buy a stuffed Nessie toy but refrained; I had enough stuff to pack to take home as it was. The drive back to port took us through downtown Inverness. There were throngs of people on the streets shopping and sightseeing. Inverness is a very attractive place.

Visitors shopping in Inverness, Scotland
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Inverness Castle, Scotland
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A busy street in Inverness, Scotland
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Back at the dock I joined a long line of passengers waiting to board the Crown Princess after a long day in port. As we waited, a lone bagpipe player played for us to keep us entertained. It was just one more thing I loved about Scotland, the people really let you know how much they appreciate your visit to their part of the world.

Here is a video clip of our Bag Pipe send off:

Video of Bagpipe Player at Crown Princess dock in Scotland

And here is a Photo of our Bag Pipe Player send off from Invergordon, Scotland

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I found Mom relaxing in our cabin and I filled her in on all the day’s events as I unloaded all of my stuff that I carried or purchased during the tour. Sailaway that evening gave us another lovely view of the coast of Scotland. Tomorrow we would dock in Edinburgh (South Queensferry), Scotland. I was looking forward to visiting the famous and historic sites of this well know city!

To Be Continued.......

Gerrilyn Grant Gipson Esq.
Owner/Travel Consultant
Meetings & Events Unlimited Travel Services
Follow me on Facebook and Twitter!
Visit my Travels With Gerri You Tube Travel Video Channel

Posted by Gerriv 07:54 Comments (2)

A Trek Thru the British Isles VIII-Glasgow Scotland

An Early Warm Welcome to Scotland Brings Big Smiles

From my very first sail on a cruise ship back in 1990, I have always slept very well out at sea. The rocking motion of the ship as she moves across the ocean has worked better than the strongest sleeping pill. On the morning of our arrival in Greenock Scotland, the gateway to Glasgow, Scotland, I was dead to the world asleep in my cabin aboard the Crown Princess. Through a fog of sleep, I heard a strange whining sound that woke me up. It was early, before 8:00am local time and with the drapes closed, I could not tell if it were day or night. Mom was still asleep so I stumbled to the door leading to our balcony and stepped outside in my nightgown. That is when I recognized the sound of bagpipes! Grabbing my camera and a robe, I went to the ship railing and saw two men in Scottish regalia playing the bagpipes down on the dock. It was an amazing sight! What a fantastic welcome to Scotland!

Welcome to Scotland video link

Bagpipe Welcome to Scotland
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I stayed on the balcony for quite a while before getting dressed and heading up to the buffet for breakfast. Mom elected to stay in bed a while longer as we did not have a tour until after lunch. After breakfast I decided to take a walk into the town of Greenock to stretch my legs and take a look around. Leaving the ship I walked through the port gates and onto the sidewalk lining the street leading to the shopping mall. I wanted to pick up a few supplies including some over the counter pain reliever for Mom and some beauty supplies for me. It was a cool clear morning and the streets of the town were fairly quiet. With the exception of the cars and names of the stores, I could have been on the street in any town in the United States.

Street in Greenock Scotland
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The Mall was indoors and had a wide selection of shops. I soon found a drug store or pharmacy that had everything that I was looking for. Standing in line to buy the over the counter pain reliever I looked around and listen to the local people making their purchases. Their lilting accents were lovely to hear. The clerk behind the counter bid me a friendly hello and asked if I had come in on the ship that morning. Saying yes, she noticed my accent as asked if I was an American and what did I think of Scotland so far. Looking back on that moment later on, I marveled at the one thing that I had noticed about the local people in Ireland and now in Scotland. Rather than being seen as Black or as an African American, I was seen by the local people as just another American visiting their country. Without exception, everyone that I met on this journey had been open, warm and friendly as well as very curious about the USA. I spent a few minutes talking to the clerk about my experience so far and she made sure that I knew all the important facts about the medication that I was buying. Bidding me a safe journey and a nice visit to Glasgow, the clerk waved goodbye as I left the store. It was a nice way to start the day.

Just after lunch we boarded our tour bus for the trip to Glasgow, Scotland. Glasgow is the largest city in Scotland and third most populous in the United Kingdom. The city is situated on the River Clyde in the country's west central lowlands. In the 18th century much of the tobacco trade between Europe and the USA was routed through Glasgow and provided a great source of wealth. Even after the tobacco trade declined in the 19th century, the city continued to prosper as a centre of textile manufacturing, shipbuilding, and the coal and steel industries. The 20th century witnessed both decline and renewal in the city. After World War I, the city suffered from the impact of the Post–World War I recession and from the later Great Depression. By the 1960s, a lack of investment and innovation led to growing overseas competition in countries like Japan and Germany which weakened the once pre-eminent position of many of the city's industries.

Today Glasgow is going through a long-term transformation, highlighted by the revitalized River Clyde, where visitors can explore Glasgow’s maritime heritage along the many Museums and galleries that abound in the city. There is culture and nightlife as well as beautiful architecture everywhere you look, though the city still shows the remnants of its industrial past in the very obvious layers of soot from coal mines that still cover many of the buildings. Our tour took us to the amazing Kelvingrove Art Gallery & Museum, through the streets and parks of the city as well as a walk around several churches and cathedrals. It was a lovely warm and sunny day. My camera got quite a workout as there was so much of interest to photograph. Mom and I purchased several authentic Scottish made gifts at the Kelvingrove Galley including jewelry and some wonderful bath gel and soap. We had a great afternoon in Glasgow.

Glasgow street scene
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Glasgow park near the Kelvingrove Galley and Museum
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Kelvingrove Gallery Exhibit
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Glasgow Cathedral being cleaned of soot
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View of Glasgow square as seen from the tour bus
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Returning to our cabin just before sailaway that evening, Mom and I decided to enjoy our final moments in Greenock from our balcony. Not surprisingly, another bagpipe band was on the dock beginning a goodbye concert. The music was great and we enjoyed it along with all the other passengers before the ship left port.

Bagpipe Band Farewell Video link

Bagpipe band bids us Farewell
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We stood out on our balcony for a long time watching the beauty of the coast of Scotland fade as we headed out to sea. It was so green and beautiful that I could not get enough of the view. The day had been wonderful and now it was time to go to dinner and compare our visit with that of our dining companions. My first taste of Scotland had been wonderful and I was looking forward to our visit to the Scottish Highlands and the mysterious Loch Ness the next day!

Greenock Sailaway Video link

Beautiful coast of Scotland from our balcony on the Crown Princess
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Next up we visit Inverness, Scotland and I take a trip though the Scottish Highlands to Loch Ness to see if I can spot the famous Loch Ness Monster!

To be continued......

Gerrilyn Grant Gipson Esq.
Owner/Travel Consultant
Meetings & Events Unlimited Travel Services

Posted by Gerriv 11:42 Comments (0)

A Trek Thru the British Isles VII-Belfast, NI

An Enlightening Visit to Northern Ireland

Belfast Northern Ireland was for many years a place known for violence and discord among members of its diverse population during the times called "the Troubles" a period of ethnic and political conflict in Northern Ireland. The principal issues at stake in the Troubles were the constitutional status of Northern Ireland and the relationship between the Protestant unionist and the Catholic nationalist communities in Northern Ireland. Today, Belfast has been revived after a period of calm and is now free from conflict and destruction. It has become a beautiful Victorian city with green rolling hills and a modern cityscape with hip boutiques and chic stores.

The largest city and the capital of Northern Ireland, the city of Belfast has a population of 267,500 and lies at the heart of the Belfast urban area, which has a population of 483,418. Belfast has been the center of Irish Linen making and ship building. The city's main shipbuilders, Harland and Wolff, which built the RMS Titanic, propelled Belfast on to the world stage as the largest and most productive shipyard in the world. The ship building history of Belfast was readily apparent from my first view of it from my balcony on the Crown Princess at the pier. Large cranes and scaffolds were all along the dock and the city could be seen not too far away.

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Leaving the ship that morning, Mom and I headed to our excursion transportation for our "Easy Belfast" tour that would give us an overview of the city. I liked our tour guide right away. He was friendly and outgoing and eager to tell us all about his home and its history. Leaving the port we drove through the city streets and I immediately noticed how clean and green everything was. The roads were paved and in great condition, the downtown area had lots of beautiful buildings and shops. I was very impressed. I had no idea what to expect, having known nothing about Belfast but it's history of unrest and political strife. All around me there was nothing but a beautiful, busy city with lots of friendly people. Our first stop on the tour was at the Queens University where our guide took some time to point out the lovely architecture and history of the university. While he was talking, I took some quick videos to capture the scene and the feeling of Belfast.

Video of Queens University, Belfast Northern Ireland

From the University we walked down the street to the Botanical Gardens for a short walk around before heading back to the tour bus. Our next stop was a beautiful park with expansive views from the government building that sat high on a hill. From that point we could see for miles and the view was terrific!

City Park in Belfast, Northern Ireland
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Belfast Parliament Building
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Downtown Belfast
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The Beautiful Green Hills of Belfast
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Our next stop turned out to be my favorite, the historic Belfast Castle. The first Belfast Castle was built by the Normans in Belfast city centre in the late 12th century. A second castle, made of stone and timber, was later constructed by Sir Arthur Chichester, Baron of Belfast, on the same site in 1611. It burned down almost 100 years later, leaving only street names, such as Castle Place, to mark its location. In 1862, the third Marquis of Donegall, a descendant of the Chichester family, decided to build a new castle within his deer park, situated on the side of Cave Hill in what is now north Belfast. When the Marquis died in 1884, the castle and its estate passed to Lord Ashley, the seventh Earl of Shaftesbury. The castle remained with the family for many years, before they eventually presented it and the surrounding estate to the City of Belfast in 1934. Today the castle is the site of many weddings, conferences and social events. At the time of our visit, there was an actual wedding going on. Looking at the beautiful grounds and views I could see why any bride would want to be married there.

Video of Belfast Castle grounds

Belfast Castle
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Belfast Castle Grounds
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The Crown Princess as seen from Belfast Castle
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A New Bride at Belfast Castle
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Returning to the ship at the end of our tour I reflected on how much I had learned about Belfast and Northern Ireland in general. All of my preconceived notions about this part of the world were now gone, and in its place was an understanding and an appreciation for this country and its people. It had been a great day!

Next up, we leave Ireland and head to Scotland for the next part of our 12 Day British Isles Cruise!

To be continued.......

Gerrilyn Grant Gipson Esq.
Owner/Travel Consultant
Meetings & Events Unlimited Travel Services
Follow me on Facebook and Twitter!

Posted by Gerriv 08:15 Comments (2)

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