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3.4 Castles, Stone Circles & Sea Monsters

The ultimate Scotland Experience

Part 4

Approach to the Glamis Castle owned by the Earl of Strathmore

We have been aware since the beginning of this adventure that we will not get through Scotland without visiting castles. In Scotland, just as in Hungary, castle visits are simply part of the experience. However, we are not so much interested in which personalities once wandered through the halls and gardens here in the past, we are more interested in the architecture and the spooky stories that stick to these castles and palaces like burrs. It's no easy task to come up with a shortlist given this immense overabundance in the far north of the UK. Today we start this mammoth task with the privately owned Glamis Castle, in the middle of Angus cattle country and barely half an hour north of Dundee. The approach is already very majestic and quite to our liking. We are allowed to drive our expedition vehicle all the way up to the castle. Yeah, even a posing in front of the main facade is granted.

Small it seems, our FRAME in front of the imposing Glamis Castle

The guided tour through the premises, which are open to the public, is fortunately in "proper english", a Scottish dictionary is not necessary ;-). With the excuse that the house is privately owned, it is not allowed to take pictures anywhere inside. Well, one has to accept that. There are enough pictures on the internet for those who are interested. Unfortunately, we don't get to see the landlord, Earl of Strathmore, because as we find out during the tour, he is exclusively in the not quite small part of the castle, which is not accessible to the public.

Not the gateway to the castle, but only to the one hectare herb and flower garden

We note: Contrary to some claims, the recently deceased Queen Elizabeth II was not born on this estate, at that time the ancestral home of the family. Her sister Margaret, on the other hand, was, and in fact they both spent much of their childhood years here. What is particularly striking in these stately rooms are the walls plastered with ancestral paintings. It feels like being in a museum. Our enthusiasm is limited. And finally, there it is, the creepy story:

Splendor of colors in the castle garden

It was on a foggy cold Saturday. A guest of the house drank whiskey and played dice into the night. Shortly before midnight, the servants admonished him that he should mercifully stop now, because gambling was strictly forbidden on Sunday. He became enraged and berated the staff. "To hell with you! Nobody has to tell me what to do". Then a well-dressed stranger knocks on the gate and asks to be let in at a late hour. The meanwhile drunken houseguest invites him into his room and the two rolled the dice until sunrise. It is said to have been the devil himself, who enjoyed himself here with the noble gentleman. On Sunday, the door to the room was bricked up and no one found out what devilish things had happened that night at Glamis Castle. Nice story, isn't it? It can be well applied in modern times, when children do not want to stop playing games of dice in the evening. Bet that such a story will work ;-)

below: in the Glamis castle forest

The little offspring, that is me...

After a detailed combing of the castle garden and forest, we drive back to the sea in the late afternoon. Today we have again bad luck with the choice of the overnight stay place. It's actually quite rare that we don't find a great spot right away. Fortunately the days are so long and we have enough time to look for alternatives. A second attempt is also unsuccessful. At this spot, no less than four RVs are stuck door to door in a small roadside alcove. We begin to realize that Scotland is probably a popular RV destination and the end of June is already very close to the high season. We finally drive through to the next castle, which actually is not on our program until tomorrow. Once again, fate has guided us well. We end up at the edge of a small closed side road, so without any traffic and even with a sea view. We have arrived in Dunnottar, south of Stonehaven.

Dunnottar is not a conventional castle, but rather a magical place. The rock of the sixty meter high cliffs is unspeakably hard and was formed 440 million years ago. Just imagine that: The conglomerate of countless different types of pebbles is so hard that the individual pebble is more likely to break apart than the fused mass of rock. Thus, the cliffs are not only resistant to the surf, but also an ultra-safe place. The narrow and steep access to the cliff also makes access control relatively easy. They knew how to take advantage of this in the Middle Ages. The Scottish Crown also used Dunnottar Fortress, which was considered impregnable, as a treasury for a long time, to safely store the crown jewels here during the War of the Three Kingdoms (Scotland, Ireland and England). No wonder the place is packed with tourists. Even Charlie passes by from time to time on his way to his summer residence at Balmoral.

below: Dunnottar Castle

So we follow Charlie's path. What is good for a king should also be good enough for the FRAME team ;-). The journey leads us from here via Stonehaven into the interior. Before we reach Balmoral, we stop at the stone circle of Tomnaverie. Who ever heard of Stonehenge, knows that stones had a great importance here already far before the Celts. This stone circle dates back to the Bronze Age and apparently has over seventy "siblings" in northeast Scotland. Other than that, they also occur in southern Ireland. How does this fit together? Good question. We hope to find the answer on the ground in Ireland toward the end of our trip. The granite blocks are of course laid out in an exact arrangement and certain cardinal direction. How they managed to do that several thousand years ago, well, opinions differ. Also whether they were first used as a memorial and then as a spiritual meeting place or vice versa, eludes mainstream knowledge. For us, they serve as places of power and we strengthen from our travel exertions lying in the middle of it. In addition, today we celebrate our first anniversary as adventurers, philanthropists and long-term travelers. So the place for such a special occasion should be a bit extraordinary. Cheers!

So now that we have strengthened mind and body with ancient powers, we move on. Balmoral was originally not on our plan at all. Somehow, however, it became apparent that we would have passed through here anyway on our way to the Scottish Highlands. So we redeemed an age-old promise with Charlie. At that time still Prince Charles has revealed to me during one of his numerous visits in Romania once that he would look forward to a return visit of us in Great Britain very much. Even if today, as King, he probably no longer remembers this kind invitation to the Bucharest business community, we will take his hospitality at its word and pay him a visit today at his summer residence in Balmoral. The British are probably a little peculiar, because at the gate we are already taken about fifty Swiss francs. Which part of the word INVITATION we have probably misunderstood here? And Charlie is also conspicuous by his absence. Joking aside. The tour of the summer residence of the royal family is.... probably not worth the money. We assume that most visitors just want to be where their king is from time to time. Apart from the gigantic and ancient trees, only the royal organic garden amazed us. So the people get fast food with no end, which is already very obviously hitting the public health with the many overweight people, and King Charlie treats himself to organic food of the very finest. To eat healthy in Great Britain you really need some time, patience and of course the necessary cash. We prefer to visit the small Farmers Shops, which sometimes offer some organic food. Lidl or Tesco, the big supermarkets, are very modestly stocked in this respect.

We accept the invitation of King Charles and arrive at his summer residence Balmoral Castle.

Scottish highland cattle greet us in the highlands

So we have seen Balmoral in about two hours, now we can continue towards the Scottish Highlands. Somehow one automatically gets the idea from the wording that the highlands are elevated. As we now see, this is not the case. The Highland follows the Lowland and simply lies further north. One could also paraphrase it differently: Where the gates prevent driving off the road, that's where the Highland begins. Free standing in Scotland away from the main traffic arteries is therefore a real feat. We are not used to this at all after the tour to Romania and Morocco. Also the Unimog has some trouble with it, not to be challenged properly. For today we place ourselves just next to a gate again and enjoy at least the spectacular view deep into the Scottish highlands. The coming days we ride our fatbikes further in and up into the Invercauld Estate to Loch Builg. It is deserted here. Only sheep and a little of the dreaded midges, but they are really not worth mentioning so far. The weather is becoming more Scottish by the day, which means that we prefer to take our raincoat with us, even if we need it more against the wind than the rain.

above: Pitch at the entrance to the Invercauld Estate

below: Fatbike tour up to Loch Builg

below: On the second day even without rain...

Soon we are drawn to the next highlight in our Scottish adventure. Loch Ness is today's destination. Who does not know it, the monster that dares to come out of the depths of the Loch (lake) from time to time to teach people to be afraid. We have already covered the Kelpies in the last blog. But now we finally want to see one of them. Our onward journey actually leads us first past the Lecht, a small skiing area. Barely 500 m.a.s.l. and already the vegetation seems somehow alpine. Probably because of the fir trees, which you can also easily encounter at sea level again. The roads are narrow and often only "single track", but with so many possibilities to pass that we never have problems with oncoming traffic. Even the faster driving traffic we let by at the passing places (all carefully marked with "passing places") every now and then. The Scots are usually happy, wave or let us know with their warning lights. In general, we find the traffic here very pleasant, not aggressive at all and only very rarely too fast. But in no other country there are so many advices to drive slowly or warnings about possible speed cameras as in Great Britain. And that the British are obedient is well known to all ;-) So we are approaching Loch Ness and soon we are close to sea level again. The narrow valleys are totally green, heavily wooded and humid. Fortunately we don't encounter any fog, which is well known in this area. With the gruesome stories of the sea monster in our heads, we approach our destination. Will we see Nessie? With Charlie it has not worked already, we hope to have more luck today with Nessie. Full of confidence and despite the wet cold we sit at the lake in the evening and wait. We wait and look and look and wait. Brigitte's inner thermometer slowly sounds the alarm and we would have soon broken off the waiting exercise, but then something moves in the dark waves of Loch Ness. And lo and behold, it does exist. Nessie looks up, like the telescope of a submarine he looks furtively over to us. My God, we are lucky today. Our patience has paid off ;-)

So he does exist: Nessie welcomes us to his Loch

The next morning the sun is already shining brightly again. Loch Ness loses its ghostly appearance and the green of the woods and the blue of the sky finally give the lake back the beauty it deserves. The fourth and for the time being the last Urquhart Castle is diagonally opposite our location on the other side of the lake. We decide against the eighty kilometer route there and instead drive directly north about thirty kilometers to Inverness, where we put up at the Highland Rugby Club to discover the city on foot. In the meantime, it's Saturday and all hell breaks loose in the little town on the Ness. Young and old are here, typically British, in Saturday night hangout mode. All the restaurants we go to are completely booked up and the pubs are busy early. We make a quick attempt to get in the third row at the bar. No chance, our patience was used up at the Loch, so we end up in a small music bar with a view of the Ness and plan from here the further course of action on our Scotland adventure.

above: pitch at Highland Rugby Club Inverness just opposite Ness Island

below: A cozy evening in the bar instead of the traditional pub

Next Blog: 3.5. The Extreme North

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Aug 14, 2023
Rated 5 out of 5 stars.

Fantastic pics and plenty of info ,hope your both still enjoying the adventure we met on ardnamurcan and mull ,,regards kenny n rachel and penny the dacshound

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