Castles in the Clouds

Sunday, August 6, 2017, continued
Stirling & Langbank, Scotland

Interested in a Music and Markets Tour? We’d love to hear from you!  How about an unforgettable holiday with us at  New Years’ Jazz in Italy?

Unlike the frequent showers that have passed quickly on previous days, the clouds have descended today and the rain’s not stopping….how appropriate to see a legendary castle-topped town, Stirling, in legendary Scottish weather – there it is, in the mist!Sitting atop craggy Castle Hill, Stirling Castle is surrounded on three sides by steep cliffs – a strong defensive position for centuries of Scottish history. Several Scottish kings and queens were crowned here, and the castle looked out over the surrounding plains through many fierce battles in the War for Independence –  Robert the Bruce looks toward the plain of Bannockburn, where he defeated the English army in 1314. The town clusters beneath the castle – plenty to see there too, from an evocative old cemetery to a majestic gate, and a cozy pub where we stop for lunch.After checking into a nondescript Glasgow airport hotel we want our last evening in Scotland to be more than a hotel dinner….and rather than driving into the big city, we meander along the Clyde River to the miniscule village of Langbank, where the sole restaurant, Coast, is doing a booming Sunday evening business. They can squeeze us in, and we gaze across the river to another historic spot, where Dumbarton Castle, with the longest recorded history of any stronghold in Scotland, is tucked into Dumbarton Rock – Mary Queen of Scots is just one of the iconic figures who spent time here. Notice the mud flats in the top photo? As we ate and took in the view, the tide came in along with flocks of white birds fluttering above as the mud was covered by water, then a mist so that we couldn’t even see across for a while – fascinating to watch!
To complete our Scottish cuisine with a flourish, we shared a Banoffee Pavlova – meringue, bananas, caramel, whipped cream and ice cream – yum!Scotland, it’s been WONDERFUL – we look forward to soon discovering more of your beauty!

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Horses and Hamlets

Sunday, August 6, 2017
Falkirk & Culross, Scotland

Interested in a Music and Markets Tour? We’d love to hear from you!  How about an unforgettable holiday with us at  New Years’ Jazz in Italy?

We’re on the road again today, on our way to Glasgow from where we’ll fly back to Virginia tomorrow, and of course there are wonderful things to see as we drive! First stop is Falkirk, to see the amazing Kelpies, huge sculptures (note the size of humans alongside)  of Scotland’s mythical water horses. These awe-inspiring steel creations, completed in late 2013, are a don’t-miss in my book – from every angle they’re magnificent – can’t you just HEAR a whinny? In addition to recalling The Kelpies of legend, the sculptures honor the draft horses that towed heavily laden barges along the many canals of Scotland, such as this one running through Helix Park where the Kelpies rear their heads. I love Jim Carruth’s verse carved into the walkway nearby – “Bow down your strong heads to taste the water, stretch up your long necks to face the sun.” From a modern-day showstopper, we continue to a lost-in-time hamlet across the Forth from Edinburgh, Culross. Often used by filmmakers to evoke villages of old (it’s been in Captain America: The Avenger and Outlander, to name a couple of more recent flicks) Culross’s cluster of pastel houses abloom with colorful flowers line cobbled streets lazily wandering down from a partially ruined abbey to the river. Beginning at the top, we explore the abbey, dating from 1217, climbing up the sturdy ladder to shelter under the vaults as a shower passes by – and there in the distance is the Forth, Edinburgh across the water. This will make a lovely day trip for our possible Edinburgh Festival tour – perhaps with lunch at the peaceful Abbey Tea Rooms beside the current sanctuary?
Oh how we’re loving the abundant blooms throughout the country – gardens and windowboxes overflowing with beauty!
We walk down Kirk’s own street to the town below, dodging the raindrops as we go – well, those flowers are so lush because of the frequent showers, right?
Snuff Cottage? I wonder why…perhaps it was made here in ages past?
Well we can’t find anyplace open for lunch today in tiny Culross, so off we go again…to a castle topped village!

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Edinburgh Explorations

Saturday, August 5, 2017
Edinburgh, Scotland

Interested in a Music and Markets Tour? We’d love to hear from you!  How about an unforgettable holiday with us at  New Years’ Jazz in Italy?

Last night dixieland jazz in a pub, this morning medieval tunes on period instruments in the Queen’s Hall, our sole Festival concert.On our way to the Royal Mile we pass children rehearsing Korean Samul Nori for their afternoon gig – their performance will be a bit more cultured than the first one we see on the Mile – on a tightrope, telling jokes in between playing his fiddle as he balances.
A block off the mile we find a cute French restaurant and enjoy a delicious meal and some French conversation along with a gorgeous view across to the New Town and Calton Hill.Heading back to the Mile, we walk downhill towards Holyrood Castle, passing a pretty Tollhouse,and find that this is a much quieter part of Old Town – one we MUCH prefer. Peeking into Canongate Kirk, where the royals go when they’re in town,we listen to a young cellist, part of the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, and find out that, in addition to the street theater and comedy that is a huge part of the Fringe, there’s some lovely classical music as well! A little further down we tuck into  lovely Dunbar’s Close Garden before stopping for tea at Clarinda’s Tea Rooms – quintessential Tea Room style, no? And the scones and tea were delicious!A pretty 17th-century courtyard, White Horse Close is worth a peek – from here, centuries ago, the Edinburgh stagecoach left for London, an 8-day trip.
Since the 16th century the Palace of Holyroodhouse has marked the end of the Royal Mile. Smartly tartaned staff admit ticket holders – we’ll do that on our next visit, since my wish is to see the Castle – so up the Royal Mile we go again, listening to a piper as we near the top! It’s been 21 years since we were here for Hogmany, Edinburgh’s New Years’ celebration when we toured the Castle complex in blustery winds and snow – I can remember shivering through our tour! During the Festival the Esplanade is filled with bleachers seating tens of thousands to watch the nightly Tattoo – tickets sell out MONTHS before! So it’s hard to find a spot to take in the expansive views I recall – but we find one  and it’s worth the hunt as we gaze across the city to the Firth of Forth and beyond, thankful for a spot of good weather.
We won’t take time for a tour today, but it’s certainly something we’ll include if we do put together a Music and Markets Edinburgh Festival Trip – which is becoming more and more appealing as we get to know the city better.
As we descend the Mile, we take a turn down to the right, to Grassmarket, a colorful swathe of Old Town tucked against uppertown’s walls,and walk on past Greyfriars Cemetery, where Edinburgh’s favorite pup, Greyfriars Bobby, famous for standing by his master’s grave for 14 years (did you see the 1960s Disney flick?) is memorialized with his own statue, as well as a namesake pub. Our Edinburgh day is complete with another delicious meal, this time at Lovage, off the lower Mile, which has become our favorite part of Old Town, and a lovely city sunset. We’ll be back, Edinburgh!

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