A Travellerspoint blog

Day 16: Heading Home

semi-overcast 58 °F

We got up on our last day in Scotland. We walked a couple blocks down the road to have breakfast at the Rendezvous Cafe. It was a cute little place with old Hollywood photos everywhere and movies playing in the background. It was a very popular spot. We were lucky to get a table right away. The food and service was fantastic. We went back to our room and put the final items in our bags before setting out to the bus station. We made it to the airport without issue and started through security. Of course, one of Ashley's bags was flagged to be searched and both of Katie's bags were flagged. They didn't find anything of interest, and we proceeded on our way after having to repack everything. This time we had a much shorter layover in Amsterdam and had to run/speed walk to our next gate in order to make it on time. The long flight home went by quick due to movies, a lot of food, and a nap.

Some things we learned:
1. Scotland is amazing, and we already want to go back!
2. The Explorer Pass is a must! This is how we went to so many castles and historic sites without shelling out a TON of money in admission fees. We got a 14 day pass since our trip was so long. They are definitely worth it!
3. A hot shower is worth the money. Towards the end of the trip, we stayed at actual caravan sites more and more because a shower every three days wasn't cutting it. For us, nothing could beat a hot shower.
4. It's okay to change plans - and sometimes it ended up being a favorite day.

If you made it all this way on our journey with us, here is a link to ALL 800+ photos and videos from our trip. None have been edited but they should follow along in chronological order in the album. Enjoy & happy traveling!

PS - if you want to know more or have questions about our budget, itinerary, etc, just ask! We hope we inspired some new travel plans!

Posted by kdpitt08 04:52 Archived in Scotland Tagged scotland home hiking flight highlands Comments (1)

Day 15: Last Hurrah

overcast 47 °F
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This was our last day with the van, and it was a chilly one. The wind along the coast was biting and chilly. Our first stop was brief due to the weather. We hiked through some open land to the coast in order to see Bow Fiddle Rock.
We didn't linger after snapping some pictures and made it back to the van in record time. After we washed the van up a little at a local car wash, we went to our next stop.

Fort George was built in the mid-1700s in response to the last battle against the Jacobites.
It is still used today as an active fort so only parts of the fort were accessible for the tour. We received a complementary audio tour and started our exploration. The fort was huge with very well-planned defenses.
We were able to see how the fort was used in its original design and how it has been adapted to be used in the modern day.
Looking out over the ramparts off the point, we were able to see dolphins jumping and swimming through the firth. After we finished the extensive tour, we made our way to a gas station to fill up before returning the van.

We were dropped off at the local train station after the van passed inspection. Buying our tickets from a machine was a little confusing at first, but we eventually figured it out. As soon as Katie hit purchase, Ashley pointed out that the next train to Inverness had been cancelled. We were going to be stuck in Nairn! We hemmed and hawed over what to do now that we had tickets. There was another train in a little over two hours we found out. We decided to walk up the road to The Classroom Bistro.
After a wonderful supper, we made our way back to the train station. Our train arrived and was fairly empty so finding a seat wasn't a problem. The journey to Inverness was quick. It was a short walk to our accommodation for the night - The Black Isle Bar & Rooms. The floors above the bar had been turned into simple rooms with attached bathrooms that were available to rent on a nightly basis. They were convenient to the train and bus station so it was perfect for us.

Posted by kdpitt08 03:33 Archived in Scotland Tagged hiking train fort_george bow_fiddle_rock Comments (0)

Day 14: Coastal Walks and Ruins

overcast 55 °F
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We woke up to a fairly thick fog and the quiet that only it can produce. After breakfast we went for a short walk through the dunes of the country park to the top of one that overlooked the beach and the North Sea.
From there we drove north along the coast to the Forvie National Nature Reserve. This nature reserve is about 2500 acres in size and has miles of trails.
We went on one of their loops through the dunes and the fog. It was quiet with only a few other people out and about in the morning fog.
The trail was fairly easy to walk with low marshy areas to higher dunes we had to climb.

We followed the coastal route farther north after our hike. Soon we were turning down a path - not even a road - and were questioning the GPS.
We decided that this is why we here and followed the path to Old Slains Castle. There isn't much left of this 14th-century castle, just one corner and a partial wall, but the views!
The castle ruins are located on a rocky peninsula with sheer drops and crashing waves all around. With the fog, it was an eerily beautiful scene. It didn't take us long to walk around and appreciate the rocky coast.
Back in the van, we drive down more single track roads to New Slains Castle.
Don't let the name fool you though; this castle was built in the 17th and 18th centuries to replace the destroyed Old Slains Castle. The New Slains is also in ruins, but they are much more whole. Their view is also impressive, located right along the rocky coast with meadows of flowers all around.
Neither of these castles are managed by a historic society so there wasn't much as far as history of information on the castles.

Once we explored, we set off along the coast once again.

Our final stop for the day was the Kinnaird Head Castle Lighthouse and Museum.
The museum was full of different types of lenses and lights used in lighthouses throughout Scotland as well as the history of their development and use. We learned about the history of lighthouses from their inception to the time that they became automated.
Once we completed a tour of the museum, we were able to tour the lighthouse. This lighthouse was the first built and operated by the Northern Lighthouse Board in the late 1700s.
The location was originally a castle that was built in the 1500s and later converted to the lighthouse.
The tour guide demonstrated how the light would be run each night and all of the work it took to keep it operating flawlessly. We were also able to see the living quarters of the keepers who stayed there. They still use the lighthouse occasionally for special events and holidays.

As the evening progressed, we found our way to another campground, Banff Links Caravan Park. It turned into a rainy and chilly evening camping overlooking the beach and sea.

Posted by kdpitt08 11:10 Archived in Scotland Tagged coast hiking beach camping lighthouse castle_ruins nature_preserve Comments (1)

Day 13: Lions, Tigers, and Bears

semi-overcast 60 °F
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We started out with a plan and then quickly changed our minds. As we were driving north through the Cairngorm National Park, we saw a sign for the RZSS Highland Wildlife Park. We passed the exit, immediately regretted it, and found directions back to it. We arrived shortly after it opened. The park is divided into two different areas - a drive-through area and a walking area. This place was HUGE! We decided to do the driving track first. It was set up for all of the grazing animals - bison, several species of deer, and the Przewalski's wild horse.
Their environment was massive with plenty of room to roam.
The walking area of the park was even bigger with different talks and feedings throughout the day at different enclosures. Our first talk we attended was at the wolf enclosure. Their expansive forest habitat mimicked their natural environment.
We attended a feeding and talk at the Scottish wild cat habitat as well as the snow leopard's.
We also saw tigers, polar bears, and too many others to name. We ended up spending five hours here! We learned so much and all of the employees were very knowledgeable.
The park does an incredible job with the enclosures as well as conservation of species. There are signs at all of the animals' habitats that show where they are on the endangered scale and what the park is doing to help. This was a great way to spend our day!

We continued our drive through the Cairngorms. We stopped in the little town of Aviemore to mail our postcards. At the little shop/post office, we were talking with the gentleman behind the counter. He asked where we were from so we replied "The U.S." because so far, no one really knew where Iowa was. He continued to press us to be more specific so we said Iowa, and he still wanted us to be more specific. We soon found out that his wife was from a small town by Waterloo! She came up front, and we all talked for quite a while before getting our postcards mailed and continuing down the road. We decided it was time to head for Aberdeen for a late supper. Our drive through the Cairngorms was beautiful. Forest that opened up to meadows and fields were filled with pheasants. We saw no less than 1,000 pheasants out in the fields or on the road on our drive through. We also encountered a local farm family herding their sheep down the road. We stopped so they could move them around us. It was quite the experience. We arrived in Aberdeen and found Mozza which was at a shopping center. After some amazing Neapolitan pizza, we drove along the esplanade to Balmedie Country Park, just north of Aberdeen.
We found a quiet place to park, utilized the on-site bathroom and got ready for bed.

Posted by kdpitt08 10:37 Archived in Scotland Tagged animals wildlife hiking camping pizza aberdeen cairngorms Comments (1)

Day 12: History and Tea

sunny 56 °F
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Parking fees start at 8:00AM so we made sure we were up and ready to put money in before the first patrol came looking. After breakfast we took a short walk to the Dunfermline Abbey and Palace.
It really paid off being the first people at the Abbey. The door wasn't even unlocked yet! The staff were so nice and helpful. We were given so much information about the Abbey and Palace and sent on our way to start exploring. Built in the mid-1500s as a monastery, the shell of the area that was lived in was still something to behold.
The outer walls were still mostly intact as well as a massive storage room with beautiful architecture. There were many tight spiral staircases that were difficult to navigate, but lead to different levels with artifacts found on excavation of the palace.
We made our way over to the church, part of which still holds service. Many prominent and notable monarchs are buried on the grounds also.

After the abbey drove towards the Stanley Mills which was recommended by one of the staff.
This may have been one of our favorite historic stops. We ate a quick and light lunch before going exploring. We were once again warmly welcomed and given a lot of advice and information on the history of the mills. Built in the late 1700s, this textile mill operated for over 200 years before finally closing its doors.
Part of the mill has now been transformed into apartments while the rest has been dedicated to the museum. This was the most interactive historic stop we had been to. There were so many simulations to show how the mill was laid out and once operated from the harnessing of the river's power to the different factory floors and machines.

After Stanley Mills, we continued our journey north to Pitlochry. Here we had afternoon tea at Hettie's Tea Room.
They had so many different varieties of tea, and we could try as many as we wanted! I loved Hettie in the Heather so much that I bought some to bring home. Not only was there unlimited tea, there was also A LOT of food. There were sandwiches, cakes, pastries, custards, and of course, scones. We definitely could not eat everything and gladly took the leftovers to enjoy the next day.
While in Pitlochry we went to the Heathergems store and factory. Here we could watch each part of their heather jewelry-making process. Attached to the viewing area is their main store which contained all different types of jewelry and trinkets made from the heather. Of course we had to go shopping for gifts as well as ourselves. There were so many beautiful choices.

Once we completed our shopping, we found a little campground, the Invernahavon Caravan Site, just inside of the Cairngorms National Park. We settled into our spot for the evening, took a little hike through the woods and along the river before calling it a night.

Posted by kdpitt08 05:44 Archived in Scotland Tagged hiking camping abbey jewelry mill heather afternoon_tea Comments (2)

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