Showing posts with label Scotland. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Scotland. Show all posts

Saturday, June 18, 2016

The Ireland-UK Trip: Wales Day 1 - Rental Car Woes

We woke in Edinburgh and would lay our heads down to sleep in the Welsh town of Chester West.

First though, I rode the F800R Beemer to the town of Dalkeith to the south of Edinburgh by about seven miles.  No issues with retrieving it from the parking garage or getting google maps to guide me there.

Had a great renting experience with RideTheHighlands motorcycle rentals.  Their representative, Greg, was extremely helpful and ensured a great experience both in picking up and dropping off the motorcycle.  Highly recommended!

Returned the Beemer unscratched....

I rode the #3 (Clovenstone) bus from Dalkeith back to the North Bridge stop in Edinburgh which was a short walk to the hotel.

Packed up my riding gear, and then Martha and I walked the short distance to the Hertz Rental Office off of Picardy Avenue.  The pickup experience at Hertz was a bit less pleasing.

They were extremely busy.  Had issues finding my reservation as well but they got past that.  When I asked about a GPS they said the car I had allocated to me didn't have it; that I'd have to upgrade so I stupidly got upsold to a Nissan Qashqai which had a GPS but of course cost more money.

All well and good I thought, then we got the car and headed out.  Immediately the car felt too large for the streets of Edinburgh and I had a heck of a time keeping it safely within the lane.  Didn't help of course that I was re-learning to shift the manual transmission at the same time.  I'd been promised an automatic transmission with the larger upgrade car but somehow it got issued to someone else so all I got was the GPS.

So, we made it out of Edinburgh in one piece and proceeded down a state highway to the south towards the border with England.  I still felt the car too large and kept having to concentrate way too much on keeping it in the lane, especially with oncoming traffic.

We decided to stop along the way at Carlisle to check out the castle there.  It turned out to be more of a military fortification than a castle, very utilitarian though with a nice little regimental museum for the King's Own Border Guards Regiment.  Damn near got us into an accident while trying to make a right turn while in the town of Carlisle; luckily the traffic from my right stopped in time though there was some angry honking.  Damn American tourists!

 Carlisle Castle
Mary, Queen of Scots, was kept here as a sort of prisoner
by her cousin Queen Elizabeth the First.

The upper floor of the Castle Keep had an exhibit briefly detailing the story of the Jacobite Revolution under Bony Prince Charlie.  It helped me, fill in some gaps, on the stories I'd been getting from tour guides and such.

Today's moto content, an exhibit in the regimental museum.

About an hour south, Martha realized I was not getting comfortable with this car so she suggested we take a slight detour to Manchester Airport to see about getting a smaller car.  So we found the Hertz location at the airport without too much trouble and they were able to exchange cars for us, refunding me the extra cost of the "upgrade".

Note the size difference, the first rental car would be
at home on US roads, but to me, not on British roads!

The new car, a Ford Fiesta, instantly felt better sized to me.  As we continued our drive to Chester West, it just felt nice in the lane and no issues for me to keep it in the lane!  I liked the manual transmission better on the Fiesta than on the Nissan as well, no GPS, but we had google maps and I've a couple of GPS apps on my phone so I think we'll do fine.

Not to much to tell of the rest of this long day, the hotel is a mediocre Holiday Inn next to a American-themed diner which served some terrible hamburgers.  We did not leave a tip.

I hope Conwy Castle tomorrow makes up for today's travel issues and disappointments.

Friday, June 17, 2016

The Ireland-UK Trip: Scotland Day 6 - Glenfinnan Viaduct and Loch Ness

After spending the night at a B&B in Fort William, I rode out after a nice Scottish breakfast (same as Irish Breakfast but without the black and white pudding) to the Glenfinnan Viaduct to catch the Jacobite Train as it traversed the viaduct between 10:45 and 11:00 AM.

Rode out of Fort William and easily found the turn for the A830 road, and less than 30 minutes later I was at the visitor center.  Saw where most of the other tourists had gone up a small hill near the visitor center; and so I joined them there, staking out a good spot for myself.

 Loch Shiel at Glenfinnan, Scotland
 The tower in the foreground is the Glenfinnan Monument

Cloudy skies prevented much sunlight from painting
the green hills through which the viaduct runs...

While we waited, we were attacked by clouds of "no see ums", little tiny gnats that bit any exposed skin.  Got so bad, that I put my motorcycle helmet back on so that it covered my head!

Around 10:50 or so, we saw the train arrive from the eastern side of the viaduct, here's a video of it:

After the train, I rode back towards Fort William but turned north using the A82 road towards Inverness.  Shortly after I started, I came across the Commando Monument so a stop was in order.

 Commando Monument

 Loch Lochy

This morning's riding was much more enjoyable than yesterday's as I was more used to and comfortable with the motorcycle, a BMW F800R.  The dry roads were a joy to ride without the worry of traction loss on yesterday's wet roads.  

I must say, riding the roads past the several Lochs on the way to Inverness, that it was a curvilicious experience!  The Beemer's torquey engine and effortless steering made all the curves encountered quite enjoyable.

Note: Loch Ness is apparently best appreciated not only on a better weather day (which this day wasn't) and from one of the many cruise boats that sail the loch.  Trees and vegetation obscure views of the loch except for a very few parking spots where one can pose one's motorcycle:

Soon after the last picture, it started to rain lightly.  It would do so the rest of the day.  I would arrive in Inverness around 2:30 PM and I rode through the town and onto the A90 which I would take all the way back to Edinburgh, via Perth.   

The afternoon was spent in a high speed slog on the A90 expressway, in rain, dark grey clouds cutting visibility to less than a mile so no scenery to enjoy.

Once I got close to Edinburgh, I established commo via cellphone with my loving wife Martha.  She guided me through the sometimes confusing streets to get me to a parking garage at the Omni Center mall located close to our hotel.  I parked the motorcycle there and will be returning it in the mornings since the rental shop closed at 5:00PM and I didn't get back till like 6:30 PM I think.

Way tired from all the riding.  The ergonomics of the F800R aren't quite good for me.  There was pain in the wrists and arms, and the legs would get tight from the high "sit up and beg" position.

We went out to dinner and I had Haggis, it's pretty good!  They don't use the "offal" portions of the sheep anymore, just regular mutton and grains and spices.  Figure with this being our last night in Scotland, might as well try it you know?

Almost 460 miles or so ridden with the rental motorcycle.  Scotland really is a great country to ride in, the roads are curvy and not too narrow, and the sights in the Highlands can be spectacular.  I have to wonder what they look like on a clear sunny day....

Note: got 52MPG!

Thursday, June 16, 2016

The Ireland-UK Trip: Scotland Day 5 - Riding in the Highlands

Today was day one of two days in which the plan was for me to go riding on a BMW F800R from, and for Martha to do some further touring on her own.

I went to catch the #3 Lothian Bus from the North Bridge, but picked the wrong one due to being rushed.  I quickly realized it was going in the wrong direction so I got off at the next stop and was directed by the driver to the right bus stop.  Doh.  Oh well, it cost me 1 pound 60 pence, that lesson but its all good.  It beat the expected 26 pounds it would have cost had I taken a taxi.

Less than 30 minutes later, I was in the town of Dalkeith, and after a few minutes walk in the nice soft sprinkling rain, arrived at the location of the rental company, which is also a BMW motorcycle dealership.

I was early but the garage door was open and Greg, the rental rep greeted me and got the process started to rent the F800R.  Paperwork was a snap, the instructions on the motorcyle and panniers was thorough and he even outlined a scenic route for me on a provided map.  I didn't get a GPS unit because they didn't have a mount that worked for the motorcycle I'd rented.

Still, Greg gave me pretty clear directions and I only got turned around a couple of times on the way to tonight's destination of Fort William, on the eastern shore of Lock Eil, which puts me in striking distance of tomorrow's riding.

Getting away from Edinburgh and the congestion between it and Glasgow was not a hard task, just a bit unnerving as I was at the same time, learning a new motorcycle, trying to navigate unfamiliar roads and of course driving on the "wrong" side of the road.  This is where the time with the sidecar rig in Ireland paid off and I remained safe and sound.

The route was basically the Edinburgh Bypass Highway A720 to the Forth Bridge, onto the M90 to junction 4.  From there, head to Crieff via A823, then to Tyndrum on the A85 road.  I skipped stopping there for lunch as it was really busy.  Next it was the A82 road to the Glen Coe National Park.
Before the Glencoe National Trust for Scotland

There was a section just before Glencoe where the winds really picked up, which made things a bit tense since I was riding on wet roads.  Still, it didn't last long and it served to wake me up via the extra adrenalin that got pumped into me!

Glencoe is where one enters the Scottish Highlands I believe.  The scenery became very beautiful, very fast and I found myself stopping every chance I got to take pictures.  Mind you, it had been pretty scenic before as well.

Along the side road that leads to the Glencoe Mountain Ski Resort

 Lovely Scottish mountains frame the highway

Just a mile or two down the road, beautifully green 
mountains caused me to stop again.

The rest of the ride was at lower elevations and the views of nearby hills and mountains were blocked by vegetation.

By 2:30 PM (about 5.5 hours of riding), I was in the outskirts of Fort William and with 65 more miles to go before Inverness, I decided to find a B&B in Fort William and call it an early riding day.  It's good that I did because it proved slight difficult to A. Find a room and B.  Having booked the room online, find the B&B using google maps directions on my helmet earphones.

The directions proved lacking.  Had to stop, look at the map to get an idea what googlemaps meant.  Of course, some of the road names were a bit confusing when pronounced by the phone.

Still, found the place and shed all my slightly wet riding gear.  The FroggTogg rain jacket and pants did their job, only my boots were soaked.  No big deal.

Got dinner via a short walk back into town along the shores of Lock Eil, dining at the Grog and Gruel Pub in the city center area.  

Some notes on riding a motorcycle in Scotland:

Speed limit signs are in MPH, as are distance signs.  Greg, from the rental office, made sure I was aware of the difference since in Ireland the speed limit and distance signs are in kilometers.  I guess the UK stuck with miles instead of kilometers.

The roads are very pretty good, though there were some bumpy patches out in the country away from the cities.  I've not run into really narrow country lanes like I did in Ireland but there's always tomorrow!

The F800R is a nice motorcycle.  Fast and torquey.  Its got all the nice farkle, heated grips, gear indicator, digital fuel gauge, ABS, mileage computer and who knows what else.  My only complaint is the high position of the rider pegs, though not really uncomfortable, I prefer my feet a bit lower like on my R80 Beemer.

Not much in terms of wind protection so I "enjoyed" the rain and cold wind, glad to have the froggtogg riding gear keeping me dry and mostly warm by blocking said winds.

Saw lots of other riders out riding in the wet, some waved, some didn't.  No cruiser riders though and the majority of the motorcycles I saw were GS Beemers or similar.  Everyone was fully ATGATT and wearing rain gear of course.  Something tells me Scottish riders get their money's worth out of their wet weather gear.

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

The Ireland-UK Trip: Scotland Day 4: More of Edinburgh

A leisurely day of checking out some more sites and activities in the city of Edinburgh.

After fortifying ourselves with a hearty Continental type breakfast, and finding me some allergy meds, we headed to the The Scot Whisky Experience to get educated about Scottish Whisky.

Here's some pictures of some of Edinburgh's Closes to give you a better idea of these alleyways:

 Check out the narrow door at the top of the
steps, almost like an afterthought

Pretty good tour, not too long and you get to sample one whisky type of your choice with the tour package we opted for.  You also get to keep the Glencairn Whisky tasting glass at the end.  Cool thing about the glass, with the correct amount of whisky in it, you can tip it on its side and the precious contents will not spill out.

 A most impressive collection of Whisky accumulated and then
donated to the Whisky Experience folks

 Each chess piece has a "wee dram" for you to drink as
you take out an opponent's piece...

The whiskys that were available for tasting today

Pretty potent stuff, we had perhaps a shot each in our glasses and I could feel a light buzz as we left the establishment.

 Another view of the Balmoral Hotel as we headed into 
Newtown for Lunch

 moto content of sorts...

 I wanted to replicate a rather nice shot by an 
Edinburgh-based photographer.
That's the Balmoral hotel clock tower framed by
the Scott Monument.

After lunch at the Golden Dragon, a Cantonese restaurant, Martha went to do some shopping and I headed back to the Scott Monument.  Paid the 5 pounds to get in and climb the 287 steps to the top.  Note, the stairwell gets narrower and narrower as one ascends.  I was huffing and puffing for a bit as I reached each stage.  The views from up there though, were worth the effort.

 Edinburgh Castle from the Scott Monument

 A view of stacked and close together the buildings are
here in Edinburgh

 There's 64 statues on the Scott Monument, I found this man
and his dog staring down at me near the top of the monument.

 The stairs got pretty narrow as I mentioned.
Near the top, it was a tight fit for me and I had
to remove my backpack to fit.

I rejoined Martha at the base of the monument a few minutes after reaching the top.  We walked up to the summit of Calton Hill to get more views of the city:

Martha next to the Dugald Stewart Monument
with foggy Edinburgh in the background.

Martha at the Nelson Monument

The Portuguese Cannon

Early end of the touring today, had work to do and Martha wanted to relax.  Tomorrow I start day 1 of 2 days of motorcycle rental.  More to follow, stay tuned.

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

The Ireland-UK Trip: Scotland Day 3/England - Alnwick Castle

Today would be a day spent mostly in a small bus, traveling to the border of Scotland and England at the town of Coldstream (home of the Coldstream Guards) for a visit to Alnwick (pronounce anick) Castle in the English town of the same name.

It's the home of the Duke of Northumberland, but more interesting to Martha and I, it was the scene for an episode or two of the show Downton Abbey.  Alas, no pictures were allowed inside but the locations did look as they did on the show, for whatever that's worth.

We did a restroom stop at the ruins of Kelso Abbey but the shots I took didn't turn out.

The next stop was at the border with England, at the River Tweed, where our Scottish van driver gave us the Scottish Royal flag to hold as we all posed by the border sign for England.

 Looking north towards Scotland and the town of Coldstream

Once across the bridge, we were in England!

The tour guide/driver proved quite the wealth of information, both historical and anecdotal, on the Scots and their many wars with the English.  He kept us entertained through the 3+ hour drive to Alnwick.

I don't foresee any other long van/bus trips for me, I apparently have developed a tendency towards motion sickness when I am not the one driving!

Still, we got there in one piece, and Craig, our driver took us to a vantage point for pictures of Alnwick Castle:

He then drove us to the car park next to the castle and dropped us off for a three hour "walk about as you please" excursion.  Everyone fanned out and Martha and I went off to explore the castle.

Quite the impressive structure, I must say.  Lots to see inside as well although as I mentioned, we weren't allowed to take pictures.  That disappointment aside, it was pretty neat seeing and recognizing the rooms where scenes from Downton Abbey were shot while the castle was used as the location for the home of the Duke of Branchester (I think).  Some of the costumes used by the actors were on display as well.

 Martha, as we neared the front entrance to the castle

 Inside the castle grounds, in the area where the Quidditch
scenes from Harry Potter were shot.

 Atop one of the outer walls, looking back towards the central keep.
Our last look at the castle.

 Wandering about a large tree house complex
that was part of the Garden Complex of Alnwick Castle

After a frantic but succesful search for food in town, we all met back up with the group and started making our way back to Edinburgh.

One small detour before reaching the Scottish border however, a stop at the town of Bamburgh where the Bamburgh castle was located.  This castle was even bigger than the one at Alnwick!  It had been restored by one of the Armstrong Clan who'd made his money in Coal and Industry apparently.

We couldn't go in though, it was after visiting hours, still we got this view of it:

The rest of the ride back to Edinburgh was in light rain, using highways for the most part to make good time.  Got back to the hotel a bit over nine hours since we started this morning.  Long day.

Monday, June 13, 2016

The Ireland-UK Trip: Scotland Day 2 - Edinburgh Sights

We spent the day checking out the sights around Edinburgh's town center that held some interest for Martha or 1 or both.

First, a little bus-borne reconnaissance was in order.  We got the Grand Pass Bus ticket from the Visitor Center and by 9:40 or so we had boarded the Mac Tour Bus, choosing it because the bus itself was "vintage" looking and it had a live guide vs recordings.

We went up to the open roof seats and had the guide to ourselves!  Rory did a great job telling us details of each sight as we came up to it.  The weather was overcast and a bit cold but no rain so it was all good.

After completing the whole loop by the Mac bus, we switched over to the Red line bus and took it back to Market Street I believe to start exploring on foot, the sights that Martha had picked out for us.

 Lucky shot while on the moving bus of the Edinburgh Castle
with the statue in the foreground

 Part of Bow Street, supposedly the inspiration for Diagon Alley
in the Harry Potter Book series by J.K. Rowling.

One of the benefits of taking the bus tours was finding out about the story of "Half Hanging Maggie".  See the plaque:

A little farther down the street, was Edinburgh's oldest pub: The White Hart Inn.  See the pics below for the history:

 We were both quite amused by this chalked
sign in front of the White Hart Stag Pub

We then made our way slowly up towards the Edinburgh Castle area, waiting till after the 1:00 PM Cannon Firing as supposedly the crowds that gathered for that ceremony would be thinning out.

Along the way, we stopped at the Greyfriars Kirk (Church) to get a closer look at Bobby, the legendarily loyal dog, who after his death was buried within the Kirk and honored by a statue.

 Here's Martha with Robby's statue, you'll note the
statue's shiny nose, apparently some tourist guide started the
story that it was good luck to rub the nose.
So of course, Martha rubbed it.

Time for lunch and Martha found us a small pub located in the Jolly Judge Close.  Close is the name of narrow alleyways from back in the day.  Some are portals into small micro-worlds of their own, some just alleyways.  
 Jolly Judge Close

 After lunch we stopped briefly to enjoy the bagpipe
music offerings by this street performer.

Onward and upwards we walked to the Edinburgh Castle.  It was still crowded with tourists but not too bad.  There were some magnificent views of the city, some nice military displays to include a couple of famed Scot Regiments, a prison exhibition area and the Crown Jewels of Scotland which we elected to not wait in line for.

 Mons Meg

 Neat stained glass of William Wallace (Braveheart)
in the Saint Mary's Chapel inside the castle grounds

 One of several large cannons on the eastern side of the fortress,
aimed basically at the town.  The eastern approach was the only
reasonable attack avenue by enemy forces, the other three sides
being high rock walls.

 A view of Heriot School, the supposed inspiration for Hogwarts
School of Magic in the Harry Potter book series.

 The modern artillery piece used for the One O'clock ceremony.
Why One O'clock instead of Noon?  One theory we heard on the 
bus tours is that because of Scottish thriftiness, it was cheaper
to fire just one round, back in the day, rather than 12 shots!

The ceremony's function is to set the time for ships in the harbor and people within earshot of the cannon; at the same time, a ball would drop from the top of the Nelson Monument as a visual signal.  The ball dropping, the fact that Robert Burns (Scotland's famed poet) also wrote the song: Old Lang Syne, combine to make Edinburgh on New Year's Eve a rather popular destination.

 A shot of the bus we took to get us back to our hotel

 Not our hotel, the Balmoral Hotel is across Princes street from our 
more modest hotel.

After dinner, we took a walk along Princes Street and got this shot of the Edinburgh Castle:

We then just wandered about a bit around the Waverley Train Terminal, discovering that the Hertz Rental car office was NOT at the station as we'd been told but about .3 miles from the hotel.  So, it was good that we checked beforehand I guess.

An "artsy" view of the Scott Monument, we're hoping to be able
to climb the 287 stairs to the top for a view of the city, on Wednesday.

Tomorrow, we tour the Alnwick Castle, Berwick and the Borders.  Stay tuned.