I failed to mention that we had our one and only left-hand driving “scare” while we were in the
After checking out of the Clachaig, we retraced our steps through the Gorge of Glen Coe, stopping to take pictures of the cascading waterfall (photo, right), and back across Rannoch Moor, where I made a final attempt to capture the essence of that awesome, brooding landscape. We stopped at an overlook on the other side of the moor to watch a couple of
We headed southeast back towards the Trossachs and decided to make a pit stop in Callander, gateway to the Highlands and home of the Rob Roy and
Our next stop was
We approached the castle from the north, parking in the small gravel lot outside the main entrance. The sun was out for once, so we laid out a blanket and had a little picnic in the grass before touring the castle. The castle is laid out in a square, with a traditional L-shaped tower house. We entered the courtyard (photo, right) through a long, vaulted passage, paid the entrance fee, and proceeded on a self-guided tour of the castle’s fascinating labyrinth of chambers, stairways, and passages. The Lord’s Hall, Great Hall, and upper hall are all impressive; only the Lord’s Hall has been refurbished while the rest of the rooms are stark, stone-walled, and suitably gloomy. The kitchen features an enormous fireplace that takes up the full length of one wall. From the wallwalk we enjoyed terrific views down the River Teith and back towards the rolling green hills of the Trossachs.
Back in the courtyard, we were flagged down by a Historic Scotland volunteer who asked us if we would mind taking a ten-minute survey about our visit. We obliged, and had a nice chat with her as she filled out our responses on a handy little computer gadget. When we were done, she told us that we were so nice, she didn’t want to talk to anyone else! On our way out of Doune I asked John to stop at the bridge over the River Tieth so I could get the obligatory castle-on-the-river photo. A gray horse stuck his head over a stone wall nearby and watched me curiously. While John was turning the car around to pick me up, he scraped a curb, which put him in a foul mood for a while.
Our next stop was just a few miles down the road: the lively town of
Our aim on this visit was first and foremost to see the castle, one of the largest and historically significant castles in Great Britain, so we followed the signs around the base of the outcropping, through the streets of the old city lined with stately townhouses and shops, and up a narrow road to a large parking area near the castle gates. From the outer ramparts we had magnificent views across the plain towards the Firth of Forth and back towards the Trossachs. An imposing statue of Robert the Bruce stands in front of the main gate; from the ramparts you can see
We proceeded through the main gate in the 17th-century outer defenses into the
The soaring Great Hall (photo, right), believed to date from the early 16th century and the reign of James IV, was recently restored to its original appearance after being used as a military barracks for years. It is the largest hall in
We took a quick peek into the beautifully restored Chapel Royal, which stands on the foundations of the original 12th-century chapel, but there was a concert going on so we didn’t linger long. The chapel seen today was completed in 1594, in time for the christening of Prince Henry, son of James VI of
Finally, we toured the King’s
Next we toured the kitchens, where an exceptional life-size diorama illustrates the hectic flurry of servants preparing a medieval feast for their royal masters. Finally, we passed through the North Gate, perhaps the castle's oldest standing structure (dating to 1380), and proceeded to the buildings of the Nether Bailey and the North Curtain Wall. From here we had a good view looking back up at the Great Hall and out across the plain to the Trossachs. Several blast-proof powder magazines were built here in the 19th century, and you can tour a small guardhouse that was converted into a punishment cell for wayward soldiers. Nearby, a new building houses the tapestry studio, where a team of artists is carefully recreating tapestries to hang in the restored Palace (unfortunately we arrived after the studio had closed for the evening).
It was now past 5:00 and we had to press on to Edinburgh, arriving right at rush hour, of course, so it took us a bit longer than planned to make it to the Elmview, our home for the next two nights. The Elmview is a luxurious B&B located within walking distance of Edinburgh’s Old Town, in a lovely rowhouse alongside a broad expanse of green lawn called The Meadows (popular for golf practice). We were greeted warmly by our hosts, Robin and Nici Hill, who hail from
Before we went to dinner, we needed to park our car in the Elmview's private car park. As in most any thriving European city, parking is in extremely high demand in Edinburgh, and one of the reasons I had chosen the Elmview was that it offered free, private parking. Well...this is all true, but the parking consists of three tiny spaces in a small enclosure a few blocks from the house. Robin handed us a key and a much-abused sheet of paper with instructions on how to get to the car park. Because of the one-way streets in the neighborhood, you have to make a huge loop in order to drive to the location, even though it is only a few hundred feet away. We safely navigated our way to the gate, which I unlocked, and swung the doors open as wide as they would go. Fortunately we were the first guests to arrive with a car tonight, so John had only to back the E-Class carefully into the far left corner, reorienting the car about twenty times in the process. How we were going to get the car out again - particularly if anyone else was parked next to us - was anyone's guess. But the car was staying put for the next two nights, so we would just have to cross that bridge when we came to it.
Robin recommended dinner at The Apartment, right down the street. We took his advice and by calling ahead were able to secure a reservation at 8:30, as long as we were willing to share a table, because they have picnic-table style seating. We found The Apartment to be an eclectic, modern place with a slight attitude (probably stemming from its obvious popularity among the trendy crowd) and somewhat unpredictable service, but we enjoyed our meal. We were seated at a long table shared with one other couple, so it wasn’t tight at all, but I could have done without the wooden cubes that passed for seating – a chair with a back would have been nice after a long day in the car. We had to wait a long time for our bottle of wine and then were not asked if we wanted to taste it. The innovative menu is divided into four categories: CHL (Chunky Healthy Lines, which are skewers featuring various combinations of meat, vegetables, and interesting marinades), Fish Things, Other Things, and Salad. John had a salmon dish and I had an Asian-inspired sea bass papillote cooked with lemon grass. We both had the chocolate pecan brownie with raspberry shortcake ice cream for dessert, which was excellent!
Before we turned in for the night, I took a picture of the view across the Meadows at 10:30 pm (right), demonstrating how light it is on a midsummer's night in