"The trouble with Scotland is that it’s full of Scots!"
Our first trip into the wilds of Scotland left us enchanted and enthralled. Not only by the historical situation that is so evident, but by the modern Scots themselves. A race still proud and strong after all they have gone through.
We travelled quickly through Northern England and our first stop on our way north was Hadrian’s Wall. The wall was built in approx. 150 A.D. by the Roman emperor Hadrian to keep out the then impossible Picts (the ancestors to the Scots). The wall was a massive structure that ran the width of the Isle, across its narrowest section from Newcastle to Carlisle. A road that carried Roman troops and supplies was built along the wall as well as watch towers every mile. The foundations were so well built that most of the wall, that has not been removed for the building of local farms, and some of the watchtowers still stand.
We travelled up to the city of Edinburgh. A beautiful city that holds the creative majesty of Scotland. The Royal Edinburgh Castle and the Royal Mile (the original road built for the town) are displayed and you can walk around the cobblestone roads and imagine that you are there 500 years ago.
The large statue that stands guard outside the Edinburgh Castle greets you as you walk toward the Castle and a large bearded man who helps people with the tours stands and talks about the statue. He asks in a large booming Scottish brogue, "And who do you think this statue is of? Why of course," he answers, "it is the man who has single handedly done more for Scotland than anyone else……(a long pause…) Mel Gibson!" After a good laugh we were told the history of William Wallace and his life and triumphs for Scotland.
We arrived in Scotland on a very special day, they were trying to set a world record for the greatest number of bagpipers playing at the same time. So we got a good position and watched the parade go by. The number of pipers from Canada was really impressive, most of them had a small flag hanging off the back of the pipes. We felt a little bit of Canadian pride sneaking into our hearts as we watched them all walk by.
After seeing most of Edinburgh we travelled up to the lands of the Clan Farquharson (Mari’s Ancestry). The lands were north east of Edinburgh in Aberdeenshire. We found and toured the Family Castle of Braemar, but unfortunately because of the health of the present Laird you cannot enter the Family home of Invercald. The lands are situated in a beautiful valley and the River Dee is a small but fast moving stream that cuts the valley floor, apparently very good for salmon in the fall.
As family history tends to go, the present Laird has no children and so the lands are to be turned over to a cousin and unfortunately their name is not Farquharson. We tried to convince the Castle workers that the Canadians had a huge population to choose from and although we fled to the newlands a hundred years ago we would be happy to come back and look after the Castle for them…I don’t think they are going to go for it.
So after a bit of hill rambling and chasing sheep around in the heather, we headed north toward Inverness, Scotland’s northern city. We visited the battlefield of Culloden, and saw where the poor Farquharsons and all the other clans stood when they were destroyed by the English king’s army. It was, fittingly enough, a cold and drizzly day as we walked around the battlefield trying to re-enact the scenes in our mind. Apparently the weather was much the same on the day of the real battle on July 1746.
From the battlefield we travelled back in time to visit a Bronze aged burial ground called the Cairns of Clava, where large mounds of stone circles were built to hold the dead. They were excavated and stand in remarkable shape.
We drove the road down the southern side of Loch Ness and although we didn’t get a chance to see the much sought after monster the views were stunning just the same. The lake (or Loch if you prefer) is beautifully long and narrow, the result of a fault in the land. Tales and mysteries surrounding the origin of "Nessy" are supported by hard scientific evidence that states that the fault line and therefore the whole of the Loch system used to be open to the sea and that after the weight of the Glaciers was removed after melting, the land lifted just enough to close the exit to the sea. And if you will, "Nessy" got stuck inside the Loch. Hmmmmm
Our time in Scotland, unfortunately was not long enough and after the drive past Loch Ness and down toward Glasgow we said goodbye to the beautiful Highland cattle with their huge horns and shaggy heads, and goodbye to Single Malt Scotch Whisky and all the wonderful people we met and headed into North Wales.
Wales – Cymru
Wales is a beautiful land full of mountains and valleys, with tough rugged people and a determination to keep their culture strong. The Welsh language is still spoken in the north quite frequently and in the south is beginning to make a come back. All children are taught the language in school and to become a school teacher in Wales you must be fluent.
We started in northern Wales visiting the large and foreboding Carnaerfon Castle. It was built by the English in the 1500’s to keep the Welsh in check. There are about seven of these large castles that encircle the northern mountains of Snowdonia. The castle is now used to crown the price of Wales and in 1969 when Charles was 20, he was crowned there with as much pomp as you would expect. The Castle itself is a very large affair with a walled-in city attached to one side of the castle. It is situated on the edge of the ocean so it is strategic for defense. Some large areas of the castle were unfinished due to an attack by the local Welsh and unfortunately due to budget cutbacks (yup, they had them even then) the castle was never finished.
The beauty of the mountains called to us and we decided to try and climb the second highest mountain in Britain, Mount Snowdon. The mountain is 3560 ft high, and although there is no comparison with the Himalaya, it is certainly more accessible and you definitely don’t have to worry about altitude sickness. It took us about three hours to climb the mountain walking at a good pace. The sites were stunning. The area had been mined years ago and there was some large tips on one side that had recently slid and wiped out the trail that we were descending. So as per usual, our easy hike was turned into a scramble over wet slippery sliding rock until we could get back to the trail. It seems that if anything is even remotely easy we will deem this inappropriate and take a "short cut" that will inevitably make everything worse. But we came out of this scramble with only wet boots and pants, could have been worse.
The trail is hiked by quite a few people and if you come up the gently sloped side you can actually take a train up, but of course the steeper the trail the less people you will meet. The area is full of hillwalking opportunities and the camping sites are plentiful in the area.
From Snowdonia we headed down to southern Wales and came to Cardiff – Caerdydd. A beautiful and youngish city with modern complexes and old Roman forts. The city is home to the Welsh regional government and, some say more importantly, the Welsh national rugby team. The city is a fun place to explore with its arcades (glassed in walking paths between city blocks….not video halls) and the close proximity to the seafront. The shopping is good and it is easy to spend a day visiting the castle and seeing the other sites.
We decided to take a day trip out from Cardiff to see some of the surrounding areas. We headed north and into the Breacon Beacons, a national Park set aside to preserve the valleys and hills around the towns of Abegavenny, Breacon and Merthyr Tydfil. This area of Wales was the coal mining region and in its hey day between 100-50 years ago there were hundreds of coal mines in operation; today there are only three. This has put a great depression on the land and so some areas have turned to tourism for help.
The Breacon Beacons is a beautiful land of rolling hills and valleys. We chose to hike in a small valley that gets little traffic. We started our walk at the large and ruined abbey of St. David which was built in the 1200’s. It was a stunning display of architecture and design, and with the grass growing over the floor it was beautiful and enchanting. We walked up the surrounding hills and took some pictures, that from the view we had looked like aerial photographs. We left a piece of Canada at the top when we built an Inukshuk.
Wales was a very beautiful place, from the mountains in Snowdonia to the vales of the Breacon Beacons it is definitely a place for hill walkers and hikers alike.