Europe Travel Itinerary, 1999-2000:
This itinerary is intended to capture the day-to-day activities and impressions of our trip.
Click on the asterisks * next to the day to go to that entry.
Wednesday, June 2, 1999; Edinburgh: *
Thursday, June 3, 1999; Edinburgh: *
Friday, June 4, 1999; Travel to Oban: *
Saturday, June 5, 1999; Oban: *
Sunday, June 6, 1999; Girvan and the Highland Games: *
Tuesday, June 1, 1999; Hadrians Wall and arrival in Scotland:
Kathleen woke at 8am and worked on e-mail until Henry woke at 10. He was still feeling under the weather from his cold but was feeling better than the day before. After the morning breakfast rituals we drove back to the Housesteads Roman Fort. We visited the ruined walls from 11:30 until 2:00. They were over-run with tourists, mostly British. We overheard one lad of about 10 complaining to his older brother that he wanted to find a stone to take home with him. The brother picked up a pebble from the path and threw it at his younger sibling. "No," cried the lad, "I want one thats been laid in place so Im sure it was put here by the Romans."
The original walls were sixteen feet high, eight feet wide and 73 miles long. This was at the far edge of the Roman world. The walls today are still eight feet wide in many places and stretch out of sight. But they are as much a testament to the power of the dark ages as they are to the efforts of the Romans to shut barbarians (Picts) away from their sophisticated civilization. For the walls today are only as high as ones knees the stone has been carried off to make barns and houses and to sit in the show and tell box of young Britons.
After lunch in the parking lot, we drove back west toward Carlisle and picked up the A7 north into Scotland. Kathleen drove while Henry slept in the back for the drive to Carlisle. Once we got into Scotland, we immediately noticed the absence of stone fences and the presence of many more trees. It gave the countryside a much more familiar feel it was reminiscent of landscapes in the Pacific Northwest. We followed the A7 on towards Edinburgh, stopping only at Galashiels for some tourist information. We followed signs toward Carlisle Castle (B6458 to B6367) and parked in the parking lot to the castle ruin at 6pm. Listened to the BBC news, made beans and cheese and toast for dinner. Walked to the ruins and strolled around it, then met another Scottish couple doing the same and asked them questions about Scottish history. The fellow was more than happy to oblige and we learned a lot. Especially keen we were to hear that the midgees (wicked Scottish mosquitoes) are not due for another four weeks.
We worked on the webpage until 11pm completely removing old links and changing the tour page.
Wednesday, June 2, 1999; Edinburgh:
We awoke promptly at 8am and drove out before anybody came to the castle parking lot. We followed back roads out to the main road to our north (A68) and began heading toward Edinburgh. We passed an Esso station and stopped for toilets, petrol, camping gas and water. Boy, it sure feels good to have all those things stocked up (or emptied, as the case may be). We also took note that they had public showers for an unknown fee.
We parked on the outskirts of town on Craigor Drive, just off Old Dalkieth Road. We caught the number 30 bus into town. Again it was a double-decker and we sat in the front seat upstairs. It always feels as if youre going to run into traffic signs and over pedestrians when you ride up there. Its almost as good as a park ride. We got off at Waverley Station to the sounds of a bag-piper busking for tips (and doing a grand business too).
Sadly Kathleen was beginning to get Henrys cold, and the overcast sky was bringing the temperatures down, so we made modest plans to visit Edinburgh Castle then see how we felt. At this point we realized wed left our van with no lunch, no snacks, and little to drink. Thinking back, we decided we must have forgotten it because just as we were parking we got into a minor spat. Somehow this understanding made us cherish each other the more and a tiny kissing scene ensued.
After taking pictures of the bag piper, we walked up Princes Street (past the Scott Monument), then up the Playfair Stairs and past "The Mound." At the castle we had to wait in line 15 minutes for tickets and another 20 for the audio tour guides. The castle was the most expensive single exhibit wed been to, costing us £15.50 for two tickets plus guidebook. Outside the castle the Scottish Guard was on display, or patrol, or whatever. About every minute the guard to the left of the castle doorway would call out "Standby for patrol for four!" and he and his mirror image across the way would put their sub-atomics at attention and march goose-step up and down a 100 foot cordoned-off area. We tourists love this stuff.
The weather turned miserable as we toured the castle. Grey skies let fall chilly rain that made the stone glisten as if it was painting the stones a matching shade of gray.
The crown jewels were our favorites and were displayed wonderfully. Before gaining entrance we walked through a lengthy exhibit full of full-sized kings and queens and jewelsmiths at work or in scenes from the history of Scottish monarchs and the symbols of their power. The exhibit culminated with an explanation of how they lost their significance when the treaty of unification with Britain was signed in 1707. To signify ratification, a noble raised the scepter and touched it to the treaty in that act disempowering the jewels and dissolving an independent Scotland.
We were in the castle from 11:30 until 4:00 and when we left the weather was really yucky. We walked down Johnston Terrace to Bread street where we found a cyber café with a happy hour (£3.50 for an hour the best rate wed found yet). They also had great wraps and we decided we liked Edinburgh even in the rain.
But we also decided we had too much work to do and it was getting too late so we caught the number 30 bus from Lothian Road back to our van. We drove back toward town to get groceries, then retreated to our lovely parking lot outside Crighton Castle. There we worked on the webpage and e-mails until 11:00
Thursday, June 3, 1999; Edinburgh:
Woke up both of us feeling pretty rotten. The weather was cold and damp and while Henry was a wee bit better, Kathleen was worse.
Kathleen got e-mails done from about 7 until 9 while Henry kept sleeping. Then we had breakfast, hung around dirty and finally drove to the gas station with the showers. From 12:30 till about 2:30 we had leisurely showers and organizing time. (Turned out they were only 50p each!) Then we drove to the shopping center (down Old Dalkeith Road) where wed gotten groceries and had lunch, naps and more computer time.
We worked and listened to the news (Serbia had just accepted NATO's peace treaty) until 7:30 when we drove to the City Center. Old Dalkeith turned into Holyrood which turned into Cowgate which turned into Grassmarket, where we parked in a pizza-joint district. Then we got out and walked four blocks in the cold drizzle to Web13. It was a really cool place except for the smoke. Young and old people, men and women, couples and singles were all there logging on, checking websites, sending e-mail and chatting online. Predominantly women, it was clear to me the social aspect of the World Wide Web has indeed truly arrived on the world scene.
After an hour, the smoke had really gotten to Kathleen. We got two slices of pizza on the way back at a hole in the wall, then kicked ourselves when we reached the van and remembered all the cool looking pizza joints within sight of our home.
After dinner we packed up and drove the A8 to the M9 to Stirling. We got off at a rest stop hoping for a free parking lot, but were disappointed. They wanted £5.00 in the car lot and £9.00 in the lorry lot. We drove into the drizzle and wound around and around until we found a spot where a side street was started but never finished (sort of like a drainage cutout at shopping centers). It was filled with trash and old cut off cedar trees, so we figured no one would run us over at night. Turned into bed at 11:30
Friday, June 4, 1999; Travel to Oban:
Henry woke up at 9:30 to wrote in his journal and read. Kathleen kept sleeping as her sore throat had gotten worse. The van kept quiet except for the tapping of keys until about 11am. Then we took pictures of the garbage around our site and got under way. A little backtracking got us quickly back to the services roundabout which also serves as exit 9 from M9. We had our breakfast and our showers and filled up on water and petrol and finally left to follow signs to the Wallace Memorial at about 2pm. The weather cleared and blue came out between the major groupings of cumulus clouds.
The memorial was grand and gaudy, sitting on the top of a small peak outside Plean. We snapped some photos from the bottom of the hill but decided both the climb and the admission fee were too steep (probably a 30% grade and definitely a £6.50 admission.) Learned from the computer display in the gift shop that the myth of Braveheart shown in movie theatres around the world was created by a Randolph Wallace around 1850 as he was developing support for the Wallace Memorial. He removed all the parts about Wallace killing more people from burning homes and fields than he ever killed in battle and gave us a hero fit for Victorian times (and Hollywood too). They built the impressive monument in about 1860 for £10,000.
We drove back to the M9 and proceeded north, originally planning to get to Inverness. But we kept stopping to snap photos, and though our body clocks thought from the daylight that it was about noon, it was actually closing in on 4pm. So we decided to head straight for Oban. We got off at exit 11 and followed the B824 to the A85. We kept stopping for photo opportunities and made a big stop at Killin and the falls of Dochart (we drove down the A827). We did our laundry at a laundry mat, Henry napped from 4:30 till 6 and Kathleen read Europe 101 while she changed the laundry and ate lunch.
Onward we drove toward Oban. We decided in the interest of sweeping generalities that the landscape in Scotland is more beautiful than in England -- more trees, steeper mountains, bigger lakes and bigger skies. But the human habitation ruins the overall effect -- gone are the quaint stone houses, bridges and walls. Instead the Scottish build much like Americans, with whatever cheap materials are at hand and without much concern for the overall aesthetic effect. So far driving through Scotland feels much like driving through the Pacific Northwest.
What they say about the weather here is true. The reason people talk about it is that it changes constantly. It rained and cleared at least three times during our time on the road.
In Crianlarich we passed two young women thumbing. We kept going but felt so bad we turned around and picked them up. They were from Utrecht the same town where we bought our van and were walking the West Highland Way from Glasgow to Fort William. But the weather was getting bad and they wanted to camp in the campground in Tyndrum (and buy groceries).
In Oban, we could see at once that it's a tourist town extraordinare. The streets are lined with shops and the docks are lined with placards for boat tours of the islands. We stopped in to the The Greatest Food Stop where there was the tackiest accordion/synthesizer music playing and free copies of the days newspaper. For 90p we got a Shamie, used the toilets, and Henry got his first exposure to the Sun. All right-wing hawkish propaganda about the end of the Serb war, and on page three a fully frontal picture of a topless model. Packed full of scandal and gossip it was quite the treat .
Searching for camping went reasonably well. We drove to the end of the road south of Oban until the sign said "All private land beyond this point. NO CAMPING." Then we drove back and parked next to the Kilbowie Outdoor Center. We made dinner and noted with amazement that the sky was still light at 11:15pm, when we turned in.
Saturday, June 5, 1999; Oban:
The sun woke us up at 4am. Kathleen couldnt sleep and got up at 5:30, mercifully putting a pair of sleeping shades over Henrys eyes. She wrote e-mails for three hours and returned to sleeping about 8:30. Henry woke up about 9:30 and started on the itinerary. We both got up and ready for breakfast about 11. The weather was raining and cold. We headed into town at 12 and dropped Kathleen off at The Food Stop to go to the toilet. H parked the car and walked back to meet K. We checked out the tourist information office planning to catch a ferry to Iona. But after we evaluated the options and our schedule and where our feelings were at, we decided to cut Scotland short. Neither of us was connecting that strongly with the country.
So we left Oban and drove back along the A85 seeking a ruined castle wed seen in a postcard. After a brief stop for a rest along the road, we found the castle Kilchurn on the north end of Loch Awe. The road to the castle was closed so we walked the muddy road. Turns out the castle is for sale, so anyone who wants to spend a lot of money to own an historic ruin can come forward any day now .
There was no fee, and the castle had a wonderful quiet feel sadly interrupted by scaffolding and wooden barricades. There was a group of five from Poland there and a local shepherd who was watching after the castle for a friend. He had to close it every evening to keep the fishermen from coming in and lighting fires with the staircase wood.
We headed on east along the A85 and turned south at the corner where wed picked up the two Dutch women (south on A82). We camped behind another camper along the roadside next to Loch Lomond. Henry had Muesli for dinner, Kathleen had nothing. K worked on pictures and H read Europe 101 by the light of the sky until 10:15. We turned in at 10:30 with eye masks on against the light.
Sunday, June 6, 1999; Girvan and the Highland Games:
We slept till 8:30, woke up very stiff but got on the road in a speedy hour. By 10:30 we had cleared Glasgow taking the Erskine toll bridge (60p) and taking the M898 to the A737. At Kilwinning we picked up the A78 south to Monkton where we picked up the A77 south to Girvan.
Hung out at the Highland Games festival in Victory Park from 12 till 4:30. Met Jill Woodburn and her mother as she was preparing for her dance competition. We saw several highland bagpipe bands and rooted for our two favorites at the Highland Games (David, our favorite who set a record for the 56lb weight thrown for height won first place, and Mike, who had competed in Scottish games in the US won second place).
Afterwards we got groceries and hung out at the beach where we had ice cream and recovered from standing in the cold wind for four and a half hours. At 6 in the evening it felt like three in the afternoon. We were quite wiped out.
After our recovery, we drove on to Stranraer where we found a great camping site by the bay. Another VW camper van was parked there (an older model with the air cooled engine and a pop-top) and we spoke briefly with Kylie and Mark, Australians who had been living in London and were now travelling the UK. Marks a sign painter and since hes Aussie hes allowed to work wherever. So theyve been picking up jobs and living the simple life. Kylies working on her own writing of human interest articles.
We turned in about 11 pm.
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