Biking in Scotland 2009

Kevin and I took a bike trip in Scotland in July 2009. Scotland is very hilly. It was incredibly beautiful and challenging and it rained even more than usual. We rode through tiny little towns, and spent a few nights in both Glasgow and Edinburgh. I made a series of videos about our adventures, including returning to the US on the Queen Mary II.

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Glasgow and Charles Rennie Mackintosh

On Thursday, July 9th, 2009, we took the train to Chicago, spent the night with my Aunt Sandy, and then the next day flew to Glasgow.

Our hotel in Glasgow, the Kelvingrove, was right next to the lovely Kelvingrove Park. I’d read about Glasgow, and we walked to Ashton Lane, which sounded like a hip and trendy street packed with shops. It turned out to be a nice little street, but much smaller than i’d pictured it. After that we walked to the Glasgow Botanic Garden, which was lovely.

We spent the night in Glasgow, and on Saturday morning we did some sightseeing. Glasgow is the birthplace of Charles Rennie Mackintosh, the architect, designer and artist. He spent most of his life in Glasgow, and I had seen an exhibit of some of his rooms several years before, at the Los Angeles County Museum. His work is in the Arts and Crafts style, and also kind of art noveau, both of which I’ve always loved.

We visited the Glasgow School of Art, considered to be Mackintosh’s masterpiece, and we also visited the Willow Tearooms, which was a charming spot. I had tea there, of course. We walked around a little more and then took the train to Callander, which was the starting point for our bike trip.

First Day of Biking – going to Doune Castle and Getting Lost

This was our first day of biking, and what a memorable day it was. We went round trip to Doune Castle, which was about 10 short miles away.

As I explain in the video, in our instructions from the tour company, we were supposed to take this route the second day. But the route for the first day, round trip from Callander to Loch Katrine, we had to get to the boat that would take us across the lake by ten in the morning. Since this was our first day, we figured we might not make it there in time, because we had to make sure the bikes were ready. This involved checking the tire pressure, and Kevin had to mount our little bike bags on the handlebars. We had big bags, panniers, on the back of the bikes, but the little bags we brought with us were great because we could easily snap them off and take them with us.

It was pretty easy getting to the Castle, and it was interesting to look around it. It was kind of cold and rainy on our way there, and once we were inside it got really cold and rainy, but by the time we left the sun came out and it warmed up. We strolled around the grounds, no idea of what was in store for us.

Because we’d only taken one of the necessary two map pages for the day, after we left the castle, we got lost and ended up on a busy highway with no shoulder. We decided to take a little side road, which led to a hill. We thought there was another road at the top, but it was a grassy track which turned into a muddy track.

Today was a big learning day.

Second Day of Biking – to beautiful Loch Katrine

This was our second day of biking, round trip, from Callander to Loch Katrine and back.

We rode to Loch Katrine, and then took a boat across the Loch, and rode our bikes back around. It was simply beautiful, with such big hills and so much rain. I wish I’d videotaped some of the huge rain storms we found ourselves in, but I don’t think it would have been good for the camera plus it’s hard to capture rain on video.

By the time we got back around Loch Katrine the rain had finally stopped, and we had a lovely lunch there by the lake.

On the way back to Callander we were on the official Scottish Bike Path, which was nothing like the smooth pavement we’ve seen other places. It was very well-marked, but the path itself was made of rocks – not small rocks that are relatively easy to ride over, but lots of big, in-your-way uneven stones. On other days we rode on bike paths that were much better.

3rd Day of Biking – Callander to Killin

This was our 3rd day of biking, from Callander to Killin. The official Scottish Bike Path today was paved and nice, except a torrential downpour did start after we’d been riding for about five minutes. We slogged along the path, and were really surprised to meet a few other bikers. There were some holiday rental cabins along the path, and clearly these people were on holiday and weren’t going to be deterred by a “little rain.” I mean, it was coming down in buckets.

Luckily, the rain stopped by the time we hit the serious hills, which made them slightly less difficult, but I still did a lot of pushing my bike.

We stopped at the tiny town of Balquidder, to see Rob Roy’s Grave at the church.

After that, we were on the bike path the entire route to Killin. We stopped by Loch Earn, which was breathtaking. Near the end of the trip, we ran into an old guy by the side of the road. His name was Jim Campbell, and being wary and cynical Americans, we first thought he was going to ask us for money or something. But no, he just wanted to talk.

He said he had two questions for us – first, had we seen a couple with two children riding? We hadn’t. Then he plunged into a long story about how he had a bad hip but had always wanted to ride to the viaduct he’d passed, and wanted to know how the grade was, so his daughter could pick him up at the end.

He said he had always wanted a folding bike so his daughter could pick him up and put the bike in the boot, and by some miracle she had one! He talked and talked and was just so sweet and cheerful, and somehow we were finally able to break away from him.

After that, it was just four steep miles downhill into the town of Killin.

4th Day of Biking – Killin to Aberfeldy

This is our 4th day of biking, from the little town of Killin to the also small town of Aberfeldy. On the way we stopped at a place called the Scottish Crannog Centre, which was fascinating. We also had a leisurely lunch in the town of Kenmore, at the Kenmore Hotel, which claims to be the oldest hotel in Scotland. It was a delightful change of pace, to sit in the hotel’s cozy bar and have a tasty bit of lunch.

At some point along the route today we saw a sign for a “quadrathon.” Good grief, what’s that? Besides biking, running, and swimming, what other torturous feat could these crazy Scottish people perform?

When we arrived in Aberfeldy, we found out that we had just enough time to dash down the road to the Dewar’s whiskey distillery.

Last day of Biking – Abefeldy to Pitlochry

Our final day of biking, from Aberfeldy to Pitlochry. This was our longest ride, but it felt the easiest, maybe because I was finally getting used to all those Scottish hills. Each day we had an option to take a longer route, and this was the only day we did that.

We rode to the town of Dunkeld and next to it, the little town of Birnham. I’d read that Birnham was where the actual Birnham Wood was that Shakespeare wrote about in Macbeth, and I wanted to see the wood for myself. I’d also read that Beatrix Potter had spent time there, and there was a Beatrix Potter Garden.

It was a lovely, sunny ride to Birnham, but by the time we got there and had lunch, it looked like rain was imminent, so we sort of ran through Beatrix Potter’s garden, and tried to figure out where the Birnham Wood might be as we were leaving.

We rode alongside a highway from Birnham to Pitlochry, but we were on a nice bike path that was well set off from the road. It was almost entirely flat for most of the time, until we crossed the highway and headed towards Pitlochry for the last little bit. We suddenly face a big hill and a bunch of rain! But it didn’t matter because we were almost there.

When the rain stopped, we rested at the top of a hill before getting to town and I really wanted to get a good picture of the sheep. When they saw us, though, they all ran away. I got one measly photo. Sheep don’t like getting their pictures taken.

When we first rode into Pitlochry, we turned onto the main street, and were quickly surrounded by throngs of tourists and tour buses. We stopped and figured out the way to our hotel. Whew. By the time we headed out to find dinner, the mobs had mostly cleared out.

Blair Castle and the Edradour Distillery in Pitlochry

We took a nice little bus to Blair Castle. An old lady carrying a huge, heavy cage with a cat inside got on with us. She was very friendly and chatty, and talked to us all the way to her stop at Killiecrankie. Mostly Kevin talked (listened) to her, because she was sitting closest to him and it was hard for me to hear her. She had taken the cat, who had an eye infection, to the vet. She said it was easier taking the cat in a shopping bag because the cage was so heavy. I don’t know why the cat wasn’t in the bag that day.

After this old lady got off, another one got on. This one, too, was very chatty, and she talked and talked…except she was so quiet that it just sounded like “ssssss” to me; I couldn’t understand one thing she was saying. I assumed Kevin could hear at least some of it, but when we finally got off the bus he said he’d just nodded and smiled and murmured responses because he couldn’t hear her either! Funny. Every single Scottish person we ran into was very friendly and oh, so gregarious.

Blair Castle had no audio guide, or maybe we just didn’t feel like getting one, and so it didn’t come alive for us like Doune Castle had. Plus, this castle was crowded with pushy visitors, who shoved against me in some of the smaller rooms.

After tea and scones in the cafeteria, we walked around the grounds, which was delightful. We spent some time in the quiet and peaceful forest – one of the trees had been imported from California! – and then we took a quick look around the Hercules Garden, which had sounded fantastic. It was nice, but not as spectacular as advertised, which was OK because we had to kind of rush through it to catch the next bus going back to Pitlochry.

We walked out of Pitlochry to the trail to the Edradour Distillery – first, we were just walking along the sidewalk, but then we took a wonderful trail up the hill. We went through a lovely forest and stopped by a waterfall where a couple of women were eating strawberries and drinking champagne. We headed out from the forest onto another trail bordering a field, and I will always remember how beautiful it was. The Edradour was, indeed, tiny, and after a quick tour we went into the gift shop. On the outside it looked old and quaint, but inside was very modern and full of all kinds of whiskey and whiskey-related products.

Our walk back to Pitlochry was even better, because it was all down hill, plus of course, we were fortified by the whiskey.

Pitlochry and St. Andrews

We walked around Pitlochry a bit in the morning and then came back to our hotel to wait for the train. In the lobby was an old woman who regaled us with many tales. She used to camp around there a lot, but now her family put them up in this bed and breakfast.

On the train to St. Andrews we sat across from an English couple who were taking their first trip to Scotland! Gee, I assumed that since they’re on the same continent, everybody would go to Scotland and vice-versa. They had climbed up some mountain in Northern Scotland, maybe Ben Nevis. It took them five hours to climb up, and six to go back down. The husband did Morris dancing, where they have bells around their ankles and flowers in their hats. Kevin told them all about his Civil War and Cowboy shooting.

When we got into St. Andrews it was crowded with tourists. Yuck. We dragged our suitcases to our B&b.

Something I didn’t mention in the video is that all along the coast, between St. Andrews Cathedral and the Castle, there’s a lovely wide paved walking path…but there’s a high wall, so you can’t see the sea! Who was in charge of that very poor planning?

This is the first night we found a Pizza Express, a chain found all over the UK, but we had no idea it was a chain until we found another one in Edinburgh. We LOVED the Pizza Express, and it’s too bad they don’t have them here. They have all kinds of mouthwatering toppings for the pizzas, plus lots of healthy options, and they have a full bar, and scrumptious desserts.

I had ice cream with chocolate cake pieces in it and amaretto. mmmm.

St. Andrews and the historic and very old Old Course

This morning we encountered our first kind of unpleasant people. At all the places we’d stayed up til this point, we had breakfast in dining rooms at our own table. Here, there was just one big table, and the only other guests were these two English people. They were in their 30’s I’d guess, and they were just…snotty, him especially. In the video before this one I described how, when we got to this B&B, the owner was gone and a guy opened the door for us after we knocked and knocked forever. He had seemed OK then, but this morning he just had this snotty, superior kind of attitude. When we told them about how we were going to sail back on the Queen Mary 2, they were downright rude about it.

The b&b owner, though, was charming, and we had a delicious breakfast.

We walked to the famous and historic Old Course. Because we went out relatively early on Sunday morning, the town was deserted. The British Golf Museum was really interesting. It’s funny – before we went to Scotland I didn’t care about whiskey or golf, but I found both delightful.

We then took the train to Edinburgh and started to walk to the b&b. We walked and walking, pulling our suitcases which were heavier every time because of all the stuff we bought. It was a long trek, but we finally got to the Elmview Bed & Breakfast, which was simply lovely. I videotaped a lot of it.

Edinburgh and all that Touristy Stuff, plus “harry potter” at the fabulous Dominion Cinema

This morning, Monday, July 20th, we had breakfast at the Elmview B&B with some friendly Germans and a couple from Tarzana, CA. When we went to Scotland, the Elmview was rated #1 on, the website I always use when trying to figure out where to stay. There were very fancy things on the breakfast menu, and even though I’d only had porridge the other mornings, this morning I had the special, which was a rolled omlette filled with creme fraiche, with salmon on the side and also either brioche or brie; I can’t read the notes I took. I think it was brioche. Kevin had the porridge, but it had something extravagant like liquor-soaked currants on top.
We planned to go to Edinburgh Castle first thing, and I was a little concerned that the lines would be long, and the b&b wife, Nici, agreed with me, but the husband, Robin, poo-poohed this. I wish I’d listened to Nici.

we walked to the castle, a pretty easy walk, and it was a mob scene.

All things Royal – the Royal Botanic Gardens and the Royal Yacht Britannia

This morning I didn’t have the Elmview special breakfast, which was waffles with sugar-glazed bananas. I didn’t want anything that sweet. One of the German guests let me try her fish, which was good, but I was glad I hadn’t ordered that, either. Our hosts, Robin and Nice, were concerned that we weren’t eating enough. I asked them what they usually had for breakfast, and they said, a boiled egg. All the fabulous breakfast things that were offered every morning would have been great, if I could have had them at lunch, or dinner.

Today we took the bus to the Royal Botanic Garden, which was nice, but truthfully, I think the Missouri Botanic Garden is nicer. It started raining, so we went in the gift shop and looked at every single thing, as it poured and poured outside.

We finally went out, catching another bus down to Leith, and the Royal Yacht Britannia. To get onto the yacht we had to go into this great big mall, which I found repellent for some reason. I was in no mood for a giant mall. The Britannia, though, was beautiful and fascinating. I took lots of video, but Kevin took almost no pictures because he was annoyed at the large, loud group of Italian students who were crowded around us.

The Glasgow Transport Museum, and our last night in Scotland

We had a leisurely breakfast at the Elmview and chatted with our hosts, Robin and Nici, and then took a cab to the train station. We headed back to Glasgow for our last night in Scotland.

We got to Glasgow and started to walk to our hotel. We walked…and walked…and walked some more. It was hot and I got kind of crabby because hauling the now-ridiculously bags was making me mad.

I got over it, though, and we made it back to the lovely Kelvingrove Hotel. We planned to see another Charles Mackintosh exhibit, at the nearby Hunterian College, but it was closed til September! So we headed back to the Art Museum, where we’d had a sleepy lunch our first day in Scotland.

We walked to the Glasgow Transport Museum, mostly because it was conveniently located, and it was surprisingly wonderful. I would have shot crazy amounts of video, so maybe it’s better that my battery was about to die; I didn’t videotape every single thing, although I did manage to shoot quite a lot.

After the museum we strolled back to the hotel, stopping to buy a bottle of wine and some bread. We still had most of the cheese we’d bought from the fabulous cheese shop in Edinburgh, and enjoyed our dinner in bed.

Videotaping almost everything aboard the Queen Mary 2 before setting sail

The Queen Mary 2! The Queen Mary 2!

But first, we took an all-day train ride from Glasgow to Southampton. Now, those snotty people at the B&B in Edinburgh, besides making disparaging comments about sailing, also didn’t have anything good to say about taking a train through the English countryside.

So they were right about the countryside. It was probably pretty along one of the coasts, but as we got further and further into the middle of England, it could have been the American midwest, but my god, those little English towns – instead of charming and quaint little villages, we rolled by one after another that just looked bleak and depressing, kind of awful 70’s-looking architecture. It was quite an eye-opener.

Luckily I’d bought a good book back at the train station in Pitlochry, and we enjoyed ourselves reading all the livelong day.

we arrived in Southampton exactly on time, at 6:40 p.m., and marched off towards our Bed and Breakfast.

We didn’t see good parts of Southampton so much, either. First, we walked through a park where some awful-looking teenagers seemed to be harassing an old lady. Then we walked down a nice pedestrian walk with lots of shops, but the guys behind us were having some horrible conversation about beating people up and stuff. We walked faster.

The B&B was very nice, but we really just wanted to get aboard the Queen Mary. the next morning we got up and were at the Port by 11:30, even though we weren’t supposed to board till 3:30. They whisked us on board hours early, though, and we had fun walking around most of the ship.

Preparing to Set Sail

Setting sail! It took a long time to get everything ready for the setting sail, and it was really fun to watch it all.

Sailing Across the Atlantic in Style

This video encompasses our voyage on the Queen Mary 2, from Saturday til Wednesday. There’s lots of me talking about the height of the waves…I was just fascinated with them, out there in the middle of the ocean.

I think this gives you a pretty good idea of what it was like on the ship…we ate, we walked around the deck, we went to lectures, we ate some more…the thing about it was, if you wanted to do stuff every moment of every day, and way into the night, you could. And if you just wanted to sit around and gaze out at the water, you could do that, too. My problem is always that I want to do everything, but also nothing. I think I kind of balanced that out somewhat, anyway.

Two of our table mates, these lovely Englishwomen named Mary and Carol, were of the do-everything-variety. Carol got up and took a brisk swim every morning, and she took painting classes, and they were always doing everything, it seemed like. They’d left their husbands at home and were making the most of every moment. One evening after dinner we joined them at an art auction preview, which they were attending for the sole purpose of eating the fabulous cheese with a glass of champagne. Nice.

We also spent a little time in the casino, playing the slot machines, and we did buy quite a few souvenirs.

I would have enjoyed dancing in the disco, but we never got around to that. I mention it briefly in the video, but being on the ship really made us sleepy a lot. I put on a seasickness patch the first day, but that was a disaster – I was literally ready to pass out. I took it off and had more energy, and never felt seasick at all. One night the sea was rough, and when we got back to the room I just wanted to lie down, didn’t even want to take off my makeup, but aside from that, it was totally fine.

But like I said, we were tired a lot…and most other people we talked to felt the same way. Maybe it’s that constant but very subtle rocking.

I haven’t been on a long cruise where you stop in one port after another, and that doesn’t seem appealing to me, spending a few hours in one place and then dashing back to the ship. This was cool because it wasn’t “cruising,” we were on a voyage all the way across the sea, a marvelous way to do it instead of flying, which I don’t like at all. If I could, I’d sail back and forth to Europe on a regular basis. Hmm, I’ll have to figure out how to get fabulously wealthy in order to do that. I must get right on

Sailing into New York Harbor

Sailing into port! This video starts in total darkness, because I was out on the deck videotaping at 2:30 in the morning!!! Kinda crazy, but I’m glad I did it. I must have gone back to bed for a little bit, but then we were up before five because we didn’t want to miss anything.

A Three-Hour Tour around Manhattan

The last video! When we got to New York, the next day we took a three-hour Circle Line tour of Manhattan. It was neat because I saw some stuff I’d never seen before, but I didn’t videotape most of NYC because I figure you’ve probably seen it. Here are a few interesting and different things, though, like the aerial commuter tram between Roosevelt Island and Manhattan.

Now I’m starting to think about cutting together the video I did on our bicycling vacation in 2007 in Austria…at least I’m pretty sure I didn’t shoot nearly as much footage that time.

OK then,

Mrs. Traveling Hughes.