Wednesday, 31 August 2011

Farewell, Fringe

I know, it's taking a long time to get to Skye. But I had to bid a quick farewell to the Edinburgh Festival Fringe, which ended at the weekend. Three weeks of theatre, music, art, street 'happenings' and unclassifiable things running parallel to the highbrow international names of the Festival itself, including that old favourite, sell-out 'Puppetry of the Penis' (yes, it really is). Out of these riches I have been to precisely one event, and that was because my daughter was performing in it. Apart from that I've indulged in the residents' favourite sport of 'Festival Grumbling', as normal life slows to a crawl in a thronged city. I think we all enjoy the grumbling - just as the Fringe is the chance for any sort of creative talent (and lack of it, sometimes) to be aired, so we get the chance to indulge the dour side of the Scottish character. Most cathartic.

So farewell Mr Tumnus bagpipe player. Farewell upside down, inflatable purple cow.

Wednesday, 24 August 2011

It's that castle

Yes, it's Eilean Donan Castle, recognisable across the world from many a shortbread tin in duty free shops. We didn't visit, I have to admit. We had already 'done' Cawdor Castle a couple of days previously, to come in a future post, and we were keen to cross over to Skye. But if you want more detail, Eilean Donan has its own website, cottage for rent, blog and Facebook page. I think I should compile a list of things from modern life that the first occupants of Scottish castles might have liked to have (F16 fighters, Facebook...).

We did take the bridge to Skye, I admit. The last time I crossed to the island was by ferry, but now there's a concrete curve of a bridge linking the island with the mainland. Much debate for and against, which I'm not going to get into here. But we came back by ferry, delightfully, and it's that short sea crossing we'll remember.

Friday, 19 August 2011

Sundew, or 15 minutes of fame

After Loch Ness I was going to take you by easy stages to the Isle of Skye. But I've skipped straight there tonight with this shot of a sundew plant, because it's also featured this week on the BBC's Your Pictures of Scotland page. It's always worth looking at this page each week for glimpses of what's going on in Scotland, and I'm chuffed to have a photo shown on it.

My little sundew was nestling among stones by the shores of Loch Coruisk, on the west coast of Skye. I very nearly trod on it, so I figured the least I could do was take its photo. It looked incredibly exotic in that rocky landscape.

Next up - over the sea to Skye.

Tuesday, 16 August 2011

Monster hunting

Back in July we had a French friend of my daughter's staying with us. On her previous visits we've been very much Edinburgh based, so it was time for a quick tour of some of Scotland's other delights. Our first stop was Loch Ness and a spot of monster hunting. As you see above, we were lucky enough to spot the familiar long neck rising from the 755 feet deep waters. In the ladies' toilets of the The Loch Ness Exhibition, that is.

The exhibition is a tourist magnet. We arrived just after opening time, but already the car park was busy. The exhibition was more balanced than I had expected in its presentation of the 'mystery' of Loch Ness (conclusion: probably not enough of a food chain in the loch to support a beast of the size of the supposed dinosaur relic). But there was the inevitable, heart-sinking, no escape exit through the gift shop.

Outside however was a glimpse of the delightful passion with which people have pursued the monster. This little yellow submarine was used for research dives during the 1960s. It looks like something out of The Clangers, or The Wombles. When I took this shot I didn't notice the boat in the nearby field, perhaps because it's nothing unusual. In Scotland you quite often come across boats moored halfway up a hill, as we'll see later in this tour.

The Loch itself isn't one of the most scenic in Scotland. It's long, and very deep, and often gloomy, as it was on our visit. There are no towering peaks along its shores. Still, it does give the impression that something may lurk in its depths, and it does have an iconic ruined castle - Urquhart Castle - from which this next shot was taken. Note the restraining rail courtesy of Historic Scotland, lest any tourist should topple over into the waters below. I wonder what the clansmen would have made of safety rails?

On our visit the castle was bristling with tourists. Every shot of battlements and craggy walls that I took turned out also to include dayglo waterproof jackets from across the globe. There was one bit of military excitement. A couple of F-16 fighter jets roared down the loch, just captured in the shot below. I know they were F-16s because I was informed by an American tourist who had been in the US Air Force and was overcome by patriotism at the sight of these planes screaming up the loch. I imagine the clansmen would have traded the safety rails for a couple of F-16s.

Our base for our 24 hours at Loch Ness was Kilmore Farmhouse, a B&B at Drumnadrochit which I can thoroughly recommend.

Thursday, 11 August 2011


The rain-washed view from the top deck of a number 23 bus today, ploughing through streets like rivers in the centre of Edinburgh. Torrential summer rain, rivers in spate, and tourists crowding into the newly re-opened and blessedly free Royal Museum of Scotland to combine entertainment and shelter. We are all drookit (soaked).

Below, the Royal Mile at 10.30 am. This week, at the height of the Edinburgh International Festival, it should be busy with strolling tourists.

Another hazy bus-top photo, below: the splendidly kilted concierge of the Missoni Hotel on George IV Bridge hails a taxi.

What else to do in such weather but draw the curtains in the evening and immerse in summer reading? You'll detect a common rural theme. No Scottish titles among them, but I do have a title closer to home to recommend in a future post.

Thursday, 4 August 2011


It's exam results day in Scotland. 160,000 students receive their Advanced Highers, Highers, Intermediate, Standard Grade and Access results in the post today. These are the major school exams, used among other things for university entry.

Some 30,000 received their results by text yesterday, in error. The results are meant to come out on the same day by text, email and post, but those who had signed up to the text service were surprised to find a message with their results beeping on their phones yesterday afternoon. Cue much media sound and fury, even though the results themselves were accurate and no applicants were disadvanted in their university application by the phased release, because the universities already had all the results.

Among the early batch was my daughter, who received her Highers results. Below is a close-up of her certificate which arrived today. The Highers she sat this year are the first five in the list, and there then follow last year's results for the remaining eight grades.

Needless to say she's delighted, and so are we. Next up for her last year at school, Advanced Highers in History, Modern Studies and Music.

Monday, 1 August 2011

Edinburgh's Royal Wedding

It was Edinburgh's turn on Saturday for a royal wedding - that of the Queen's granddaughter Zara Phillips and England rugby player Mike Tindall at the Canongate Kirk on the Royal Mile. They're pictured above leaving the church. All photos are courtesy of my daughter, who had a prime spot nearby.

Amazingly the sun shone, which was fortunate not just for the bride and groom, but for the three people who had camped overnight. Three is a pretty good number - this is Scotland, remember. Two of them were still fast asleep at 7 am when my daughter arrived to join friends who had staked out their position at 5 am.

A long wait then ensued, with ritual cheering of anything official that moved. Things began to warm up when the self-conscious but clearly delighted choir from Gordonstoun, Zara's old school, was escorted up the Royal Mile to the church.

Below, Mrs Queen is welcomed by the minister of the Canongate Kirk, Revd Neil Gardner.

The bride's arrival, below.

A collection of Royals after the ceremony. From left to right as far as the pillar: Princess Anne, the mother of the bride; her husband; Timothy Laurence; the minister, Neil Gardner; unknown - at least to me; Prince William (or the Earl of Strathearn as he is in Scotland); unknown man in suit; Her Royal Highness Catherine, Countess of Strathearn; Prince Harry.


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