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Scotland: Claver Cairns

A Hidden Gem as Amazing as Stonehenge

Not far from Inverness, just a few miles from the Culloden Battlefield are the 4000 year-old Claver Cairns, one of my favorite sites in Scotland. The Cairns (rocks) are formations that are reminiscent of Stonehenge. Arranged in circles, they are thought by some to be a burial ground. Others think they were a calendar of sorts for farming. Whatever they were used for, they are mystical. Being there made me happy that there are still mysteries in the world that no one quite understands. Who put these circles of stacked rocks and huge stones in place? Why are they there? Surrounded by trees, with green pastures as far as the eye can see, hills loom in the distance and when you stand in the middle of one of the circles, you feel as though it must have felt centuries ago. There is nothing of modernity here (except a sign directing you to see the Highland Cows a short distance away) and I was struck by the hours, days, weeks, it took to stack these Cairns into mysterious circles that were carefully arranged to let sunlight stream through on the solstice.

For fans of Diana Gabaldon’s popular novel Outlander and the TV series of the same name, Clava Cairns has become a bucket list destination. It's been suggested that Outlander’s fictitious stone circle, Craigh na Dun was inspired by the site. This is where the main character falls through time and meets her Scottish love, Jamie. The show has become so popular, there are now Outlander bus tours that take you to all the places where the show has filmed.

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Posted by teethetrav 04:44 Archived in Scotland Tagged scotland stonehenge claver_cairns pre-historic_stones culloden_battlefield diana_galbadon outlander Comments (0)

Scotland: Road Trip

Heading to the Highlands

The trip from Edinburgh up to Inverness and the Highlands is dotted with small opportunities to see samples of Scottish history. It is also a ride through ever-changing scenery that is green and hilly, then shifts to a brown and gray moonscape as you move out of the Lowlands across the fault line up into the Highlands. Layered over everything are clouds, mist, fog, and broody skies that can shift from dark to light as quickly as you cross a road. A road that gets slimmer the higher you climb and eventually becomes one narrow lane with small, paved sections that enable you to pull over so vehicles coming in the other direction can pass you on the curved mountain roads. Did I mention there was fog?

One stop is the historic town of Dunkeld on the River Tay where you can wander into the Dunkeld Cathedral, walk along the River, admire the town garden, shop a bit and get a wee snack in one of cafes.

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Another stop is the Folk Museum in Newtonmore. This reproduction village shows how Scottish Highlanders lived from the 1700s on. You can wander in and out of buildings that show how they built their homes, farmed, how they dressed, how they wove wool, and made their clothes. Set in a one mile long, 80 acre site, the scenic working farm has restored buildings that brings Highland history to life. There is a lovely trail to hike.

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No Scottish road trip would be complete with a stop at a whiskey distillery. There are around 120 distilleries in Scotland, so pace yourself. The Dalwhinnie Distillery is known for pairing single malt whiskey with chocolate, so it has double appeal if you are a fan of either, or both. You can take a tour and learn how whiskey is made, or simply sample from 1 to 6 drams of different whiskeys, each served with a chocolate. For 5 pounds you can get a cup of hot chocolate that is so thick it is more like pudding.

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Posted by teethetrav 04:02 Archived in Scotland Tagged scotland whiskey dunkeld highland_folk_museum dalwhinnie_distillery single_malt_whiskey river_tay Comments (1)

Scotland: Queensferry

Three Bridges Over Forth Firth

For anyone who doesn't like cities, Queensferry is the perfect place to stay. A tiny coastal village on the edge of Edinburgh, Queensferry boasts of three lovely bridges that pass over the Forth Firth. I have no idea why they need three bridges; there's not that much traffic. The oldest is a red suspension bridge that resembles the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco. The newest, also a suspension bridge, is a marvel of steel that sparkles over the water. Known as the Queensferry Crossing, this collection of pipes and strings opened in 2017 and runs 1.7 miles (2.7km). It is the longest three-tower, cable-stayed bridge in the world. Scotland, a country of around 5 million people, invested of over £1.3 billion in the new bridge that is not only functional, the structure looks like a sculpture.

Queensferry is also a place where walkers can pick up the John Muir trail that leads from coast to coast. It is only one of a number of lengthy walking trails in Scotland. I passed through this postcard-perfect town on the beginning of a five-day adventure to the Highlands. Although it wasn't raining, the moody skies foretold the dreadful weather that was yet to come.

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Posted by teethetrav 06:44 Archived in Scotland Tagged scotland edinburgh queensferry forth_firth queensferry_crossing three_bridges Comments (0)

Scotland: Day trips from Edinburgh

Melrose Abbey & Smailholm Tower

Edinburgh is a compact city and it's surrounded by lovely green hills. Once you exit the city, in under half an hour, there are various sites to visit including the Tweed Valley where you can see a statue of William Wallace who became widely known outside of Scotland thanks to the film Braveheart. Weirdly enough, Wallace wasn't actually Braveheart. It turns out that Robert the Bruce was and his heart is on display in Melrose Abbey in the small town of Melrose. The Abbey is a semi-ruin, but you can still go inside if you want to see the heart. Robert the Bruce lived in the late 1200s and fought with Wallace against the English. Robert later became King of Scotland and was known as Robert I. Along the way, he was excommunicated by the Pope for murdering someone in a church. Eventually all was forgiven.

The Abbey sits on a beautiful piece of land on the edge of Melrose, a small town with quite a few shops and restaurants. I ate at the Greenhouse Cafe where your dog is welcomed with a large bowl of water. The food is made on the premises and is fresh and delicious. I had a chicken salad with a freshly made chutney. If they put the chutney in a jar, I would buy it.

On the way back to Edinburgh, a brief stop at Smailholm Tower is worth a look. The four story tower was a favorite spot of Sir Walter Scott who visited there often and was inspired to write some of his poems and ballads there.
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Posted by teethetrav 05:26 Archived in Scotland Tagged melrose melrose-abbey smailholm-tower robert-the-bruce king-of-scotland greenhouse-cafe william-wallace braveheart Comments (0)

Scotland: Outside Edinburgh

Rosslyn Chapel

Anyone who read or saw The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown remembers Rosslyn Chapel. Brown's fictionalized account of the quest for the Holy Grail comes to a dramatic end at Rosslyn--the Rose Line. In fact, William St. Clair's family began building the Chapel in the mid 1400s and its intricate mason carvings of Christian symbols, Jewish stars, pagan faces, animals, an uncracked symbolic code, plants, vegetables, roses, and more have intrigued people ever since. No wonder mystical stories about the Chapel abound. The carvings suggest, as Brown noted, that the masons left a shrine to all faiths as well as to nature. So much here is inexplicable. For example, there are carvings of corn and of elephants, neither of which had ever been seen in Scotland in the 1400s. How did they know what they looked like? But the most fascinating fact is that there is a subterranean chamber underneath the Chapel. This is where, supposedly, the Holy Grail is, or was. It would be impossible to excavate the chamber without the Chapel crumbling. I love a good mystery.

Less than ten miles outside of Edinburgh, William St. Clair set the Chapel high on a hill near his home. If you take the public bus #37 from Princes Street in Edinburgh, you can easily get there without a car. There are mystical stories about how the Chapel was used as an astrological observatory as well as a direct line to aliens. How can you resist a place that has aliens, the Holy Grail, and a relationship to the secretive Knights Templar? Even if you are a skeptic, there is still a murder that is well-documented. A master mason left an apprentice in charge of one of the columns while he went off to a workshop to improve his craft. The apprentice had a vision and carved an intricate, spiraling masterpiece. When the master returned, he was infuriated and killed the apprentice. Their heads are memorialized in carvings in the Chapel, as is the head of the grieving mother of the dead apprentice. The Apprentice's Pillar is amazing.

None of the masons names are known, but their work is stunning. It is possible to spend hours inside this small Chapel and you will never see all of the hundreds of carvings. Unfortunately, no indoor photography is permitted. It is only due to Dan Brown's book and the subsequent movie, that the Chapel is going to survive. Since the book was published in 2003, the publicity has brought hundreds of thousands of tourists and the money has been used for continual conservation of this tiny treasure that still belongs to the Sinclair family. Find more at www.rosslynchapel.com
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Posted by teethetrav 07:39 Archived in Scotland Tagged scotland edinburgh rosslyn_chapel masons knights_templar dan_brown the_da_vinci_code william_st._clair Comments (1)

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