Late Summer by the Sea

We drove along the coast until we found a place to walk, and ended up at Nun Mill Beach. Believe it or not, late August has had mostly sunny days and today was another. 8.29.16 Nun Mill BaysmWe ate our picnic by the water and found lots of beach glass. The fields beside the shore are a brilliant green and we followed a path up the hill to look out over Solway Firth and across to the Lake District.

On our walk, Jonathan pointed out a roe deer strolling across the field. This beautiful action photo by Alasdair Middleton shows just the reddish-brown color of its coat.

Late summer seems so intense–the sun (when it’s out), the fields, the animals are all in perfect health, we’re in a special moment poised between the seasons.

Scottish Castles and then some

Southern Scotland is full of castles. How do you choose which ones to visit? After I realized that we couldn’t visit them all, we chose a couple from a range of time periods to see whether we can see any changes over time.

What I found is that castles didn’t change much between the 12th and 16th centuries. They range from a very small tower (Orchardton) to a large tower with an extra bit added (MacLellan). Not until the 17th century did castles become the showplaces we see today.

When I decided to focus on visiting castles, I didn’t pay think about visiting any of the old abbey sites. They are fewer in number, and had a religious focus, so I didn’t think I’d be interested, until we drove by Dundrennan Abbey on our way somewhere and pulled in to have a look. (I include photos of Dundrennan at the end of this post.) It was both an irony and a revelation. The power was in the Church, obvious from a first look around. Dundrennan is much larger and ornate than any castle built before the late 1600s, AND most of it was built before 1200. I seem to have been following the wrong team. It also explains why Henry VIII (and other kings) wanted to take over the Church. It was obvious the clergy held much more power than the king and were far wealthier. A good example is Henry VIIIs advisor Cardinal Woolsey. Woolsey built Hampton Court Palace (near London) for himself, but Henry admired it so much that he made Woolsey give it to him.

Castles, however, capture our imagination. Here’s a tour through time with Scottish castles.


The oldest castles are no longer standing, though some remain as footprints in the ground that have been excavated or mapped. You can see the oldest church at Holyrood Abbey in Edinburgh, founded in 1128. 7.19.16 Holyrood Palace-012Compare Holyrood’s Old Abbey, established in 1128, with the footprint of the original castle at Caerlaverock, built in the 1200s. (Holyrood is bigger.)20160817_125845 A great deal may be known about these barely visible castles from documents that have been preserved through the centuries. The depth of historic records in the UK is impressive.

8.25.16 Cardoness Castle-009



Here is the outline of an older portion of Cardoness Castle



14th century Castles (1300s), Threave Castle

Skip forward a mere 100 years, and many castles from the era remain standing. During the late 1300s, Threave Castle was built on an island in the river Dee, not far from today’s town of Castle Douglas. Threave was well protected for its time, with a natural moat flowing around it, accessible by boat up and down the river. Like the first castle Caerlaverock, it was damp, but unlike that castle, Threave was never moved to a drier spot.

8.9.16 Threave Castle-012Threave was home to Archibald Douglas, known as Archibald the Grim for his terrible face in battle. Archibald inherited his title from James Douglas, known as both James the Good and The Black Douglas. James Douglas spent his career, most of the 1300s, moving from battle to battle in support of William Wallace and Robert Bruce. The black in the Douglas name refers to barbaric incidents such as the “Douglas Larder.” At that time, the Douglas family properties had been confiscated and James Douglas was intent on regaining them. On Palm Sunday 1307, he and a band of men hid outside Douglas Castle (now demolished) until the soldiers went to a nearby church for services. Douglas and his men broke in, captured those present, then gathered all the stores of the castle in a great heap, splitting open wine casks and splintering the wood. He had all the captives beheaded and set atop the ruined goods then lit on fire. Local people dubbed the event the Douglas Larder and James’ ruthlessness became part of his legend.

8.9.16 Threave Castle-009

The harbor at Threave castle is very small.

By Archibald’s rule at the end of the 1300s, the Douglas name was a prominent one, and earned the enmity of English kings. Archibald the Grim was succeeded by his son Archibald, yet the Douglas’ were constantly under attack. This culminated in the siege of Threave Castle in 1455. In the end money succeeded where a siege could not. Threave surrendered and was partly dismantled. Put back together by the next owners (the Maxwells of Caerlaverock Castle-they were all interrelated over time).  This next siege of Threave Castle came in the 1600s.

8.9.16 Threave Castle-016From 1637-1688 religion in Scotland was declared to be based on the Book of Common Prayer, led by Episcopal ministers, as declared by the king. This sounds straightforward except for the fact that in Scotland, the Presbyterian Church of Scotland was the dominant practice, and many Scots believed that a king could never be the head of a church, the role they believe was a spiritual position filled by Jesus Christ. A declaration to that effect (the Covenant) was signed by many in Scotland who were called Covenanters. To suppress opposition to his dictates, the king ordered Covenanters to hunted and killed in an effort to institute religion according to the king’s will. It was treasonous to oppose the religious rules of the king and the siege of Threave Castle by Covenanters was an effort to drive out non-Scottish Episcopal believers. Once again Threave fell due to negotiations but this time the castle was not reoccupied.

15th century Castles (1400s) Cardoness Castle

Castles got taller over the next century based on our visit to Cardoness Castle. The castle was owned by the Cardoness family by 1220, but the present structure is a tower house from the 15th century when it was owned by the McCulloch family. 8.25.16 Cardoness Castle

The McCullochs were involved in feuds and raids throughout the region of Dumfries and Galloway. The castle was acquired from the Cardoness family through marriage. The tale goes that the head of Cardoness was furious that he had nine daughters and no sons. His  next child was a boy, and the laird insisted on holding a huge party on the surface of the frozen loch at the foot of the castle. In the midst of the festivities, the ice gave way and all were killed but the one daughter who had stayed back with a cold. She then married a McCulloch who was interested in her wealth and castle.

The interior of the castle displays wealth in the abundance of carved stone mantelpieces, niches and window seats. Cardoness is also structurally very strong.

Two of the four sides are doubled by having a narrow passage between the outer wall and the inner living rooms. These were for the servants to move about unseen, but had the effect of adding structural support and insulation to the walls. Between 1700 when the castle was abandoned, and 1927 when the ruins were given to Historic Scotland, Cardoness did not deteriorate as much as many other abandoned castles.

16th centory Castles (1500s), Drumcoltran tower, MacLellan’s Castle, Carsluith Castle

Even more structures from the sixteenth century are still around. We visited Drumcoltran Tower,  MacLellan’s Castle, and Carsluith Castle. Drumcoltran Tower is the most remote. It is only a mile or two off the road, but it is a good thing there are signs, because the road runs through farmland. The final sign points to the side of the road: “Parking.”

8.7.16 Drumcoltran Tower-027However, a dedicated path leads to the tower from the roadside. There is information on signs outside and inside the tower, including a reminder not to get in the way of the workings of the modern farm that is all around. Historic Scotland has managed the property since 1951. It is in very good condition, a roof is in place and the windows screened to keep out birds. The door was open though there was not an attendant.

Drumcoltran Tower was built in the mid 1550s, to control a road between Dumfries and Dalbeattie. It is in the middle of a farmyard, with barns and buildings on three sides. Though it seems incongrous to us, this is very much like the tower’s original setting, when Edward Maxwell lived in the tower, surrounded by the hamlet he managed.

The view from the top of Drumcoltran Tower reveals a broad expanse of farmland, full of grazing animals. The sheep tried to prevent us from leaving, but we did find a way.

8.8.16 McClellan castle KirkudbrightThe corner tower of MacLellan’s Castle in Kirkcudbright looks a bit like the Drumcoltran Tower. Not surprising, as it was built about the same time, with construction underway by 1577.

I find it impressive to read that in 1569 Thomas MacLellan of Bombie was given the site of a ruined Greyfriars monastery in the town of Kirkcudbright. That means there are documents that record this, preserved for more than 400 years. Perhaps because this castle is in the center of town, there are more displays at MacLellan’s Castle. Jonathan went to help in the kitchen.


8.18.16 Carsluith CastleCarsluith Castle is similar to the others, different in being open to the elements (pigeons), and located by the side of the road. One feature still visible (below) is a sink, where you could stand while a servant poured water over your hands for washing. The water drained out the side of the building just behind where Jonathan is standing. Solway Firth is just to the left, so waste eventually made it there.

8.18.16 Carsluith Castle-003sm


8.18.16 Carsluith Castle-002

The space between floors in most castles is open now, as the wood floors have not been replaced or restored, but it is possible to see the notches that supported roof beams, and the features in each room. Here you see the second and third floors at Carsluith. The second floor had a window seat, a fireplace and a niche that could have held shelves for storage or display. The third floor was for a lesser member of the household. The fireplace is smaller and there are no built in features.


17th century Castles (1600s) Caerlaverock Castle

We have visited two castles that were at least partly built during the 17th century. The most fun was probably Caerlaverock Castle. 8.17.16 Caerlaverock Castle var-023 I happened to see on their web site that it was the setting for The Decoy Bride, a very silly romantic comedy that I watched on the recommendation of my daughter, a David Tennant fan.

He seems to have strayed into this film by accident (possibly between better gigs). I went back and watched it again, and enjoyed seeing how the castle was worked into the film.

20160817_125845The foundations of an early Caerlaverock Castle built around 1230 were excavated some years ago and lie in a clearing near the surviving castle. On the edge of a stream, it’s no surprise that the first castle was abandoned because of the damp, make that soggy, surroundings.

8.17.16 Caerlaverock CastleA few hundred meters away, the new castle was built by surrounded by a moat, easy to create in the wet surroundings, and then a ditch and palisade.


Distinctive at Caerlaverock is its moat (right), triangular shape (first photo), and the much later building inside the castle.





8.17.16 Caerlaverock Castle-009Called the Nithsdale Lodging, this Renaissance style building (completed 1634) was a departure from previous architecture because of its numerous large windows and decorative carvings over the windows. It is very different than the rest of this and the other castles we’ve seen and it was intended to impress the neighbors and competitors with Robert Maxwell’s new title of Earl of Nithsdale granted around 1620. The panels over each window are an unusual mix from my perspective, but perhaps were appropriate at the time. Most have some mythological reference, but some are allegories of love and honor, while the top three are examples of what happens to your enemies. Prometheus having his liver pecked out, for example.

For more on Caerlaverock Castle, try this very interesting blog post:

More on Nithsdale lodging at Caerlaverock Castle

The great irony is that Caerlaverock Castle fell to a siege in 1640, only six years after the new construction was completed. It was partially dismantled once again, a practice used to keep a structure from being used in future battles. Caerlaverock Castle was never reoccupied.

Drumlanrig Castle (1679-1689)

By the time Drumlanrig was built, castles had become as we imagine them today, huge (120 rooms), turreted lavish homes set in extensive grounds.

DSCN5243smThey could be defended, but not as easily as in the days before cannon. The castle interior is hung with Old Masters of greater (Rembrandt) and lesser distinction. Our young guide was proud of his association with the castle and the Buccleuch (Bu-KLOO) family. I was surprised and a bit taken aback to find that the Earl owns 90,000 acres just in the area around the castle, AND is the largest private property owner in Europe, with hundreds of thousands of acres. Why should we congratulate this person? Why on earth should we be paying to visit his castle? Oh, and by the way, he rarely even visits, he has a palace he prefers down the road. It has only 60 rooms. 8.21.16 Drumlanrig Castle-028smWe were not allowed to take photos of the interior of the castle, though I took a photo out one window of the formal garden. My overall impression of Drumlanrig is that it displays the worst of inherited wealth. The castle is used as an event location, just to keep something going on at the property. Our visit coincided with the Galloway Country Fair, another summer to-do with dogs displaying their skills, and more sheep races. It was fun, but I was a sobered by learning about its place in the larger political/economic system. Do these people need land reform?

Dundrennan Abbey-Last but far from Least

It was quite an eye-opener to see the huge abbey church at Dundrennan. Even as a ruin it impresses. The idea of a cloistered order is a bit difficult for me to get my head around, a place where the brothers all prayed a lot, grew much of their own food, kept to themselves, all during the 1100s, almost a millennium ago. It’s suggested that they also died young because of the privations of the order. A tough life, though the cloistered monks did rely on “lay brothers” to perform especially heavy work. Despite the hard life, the grandeur of the surroundings may have been something of a reward compared to the kind of home a local family or even a noble would have had at the time.

DSCN5364smThe circles are the remains of supporting pillars of the nave of the church. What you see in the photo is the transept, a small portion of the original church structure. (It was massive.)

DSCN5350smThis view inside the transept of Dundrennan shows you the scale of the place. It was completed before the earliest of the castles I’ve mentioned.


Later portions of the abbey like this one were completed by the end of the 1200s, much earlier than anything comparable in castle construction.





There are a lot of pieces in storage that have been collected as the abbey gradually falls apart.

I think I’ll switch to visiting abbeys and give Scottish castles a break. They are all rectangular towers, have the same layout, a barrel-vaulted storeroom(s) on the bottom, a great hall above, residence above, retainers above that. Kitchen, brewhouse, bakery and servants all were in structures around the exterior of the tower and are not ordinarily preserved, though it should be great for archaeological excavation. All those broken dishes and ale tankards…….



Why here? A ten-second economic history

We drive down narrow roads, rarely passing anyone, heading for the shore. Our only company is the landscape and the sheep and cattle grazing. 8.2.16 Rockcliffe-001

We arrive at the end of the road a few steps from the rocky beach. The tide is out so far that you can’t see the water. This is a huge mud flat.




8.15.16 Powillimount beach-013What do we find upon turning the corner? A car park for 15 cars, half full, with people camped on the beach for the day.

The immense tide flats were harvested of their cockles (small clams) for years. Today, cockling is prohibited along the Solway coast, with the promise that eventually it will be allowed under a strict system of permits to protect the clams from overharvesting. Even without cockling, when the tide comes in there is swimming, sailing, and windsurfing, hiking along the shore and beachcombing.

Where do they all come from? Why are they in this place that seems remote until you get there?

I believe that the answer is in changing times. Southern Scotland was a political hotbed up until de facto union with England in 1603. That means that the peak construction and use of castles was centuries ago. Since 1603 there have been huge changes to the world. In its early days, the industrial revolution aided this region, the Solway coast, as ports were needed to move goods by ship. The coming of the railroads turned many of these small ports into ghost towns. 150 years ago the coastal town of Carsethorn was the shipping harbor for Dumfries. Railroads took over much of the commercial movement of goods. Today Carsethorn is a stop along a coastal walking trail, known for its pub.

For much of the same period and beyond, granite and slate quarries produced building material that was used locally, also shipped to London and beyond. Slate is still used for roofing in this region, while in the US it is costly, a premium material. This is not the figured granite used in contemporary counter tops, but granite used to build stock exchanges, railroad stations, and cut into paving stones. Most homes in Dalbeattie have granite steps (below, left).

8.3.16 Gatehouse of Fleet-0078.6.16

There is some very fine work in granite. I like this combination of granite and small stones on the facade of a house in Gatehouse of Fleet (right).

Slate is also used creatively (below), as well as in roof tiles.

For much of the same period and beyond, granite and slate quarries produced building material that was used locally, also shipped to London and beyond. Slate is still used for roofing in this region, while in the US it is costly, a premium material.

Most of the quarries are no longer in use, and many, including two adjacent to the town of Dalbeattie, are now forested parks with walking trails used by walkers, runners, mountain bikers and other cyclists.

One of the solutions to the economic bust that followed the boom of the Industrial Revolution is the substitution of tourism for business travel. Though we don’t meet very many American tourists, we do see the occasional American, French or German visitors. We do come across lots and lots of visitors from elsewhere in Scotland and the UK. People have second homes in the Dumfries and Galloway region, they come in RVs/camper vans, they hike and camp or stay in B&Bs. And now Airbnb like we have. This explains why we see visitors at every archaeological or historic site we stop at, every castle, every beach. There are cafes in many places that have no other services locally. The festivals that seem to be taking place every weekend all summer in every small town in southern Scotland are a combination of annual reunion for those who have moved away and activity for those who are visiting.

Economic continuity comes from farming, cattle, sheep and pigs. DSCN5258smEndless green fields bordered by stone walls carpet the area and hundreds of animals graze across them as you drive by. 8.20.16 Drumtroddan rock art-020

These cows were grazing on the farm around an archaeological site we visited and seemed happy to check us out. Scots in this region have long been farmers and that is still an important part of the economy.


Men on plinths, Part II

It turns out that men on plinths is not just an Edinburgh phenomenon.

8.6.16 Dumfries-001Surprise!, it’s Robert Burns (again). This is in the center of Dumfries. There is really a passion for Robert Burns. In Moffat, the Black Bull pub that has a plaque on it because Robert Burns wrote a brief poem on a window pane. It also has a replica of the pane.

In southern Scotland, animals are an alternative to men on monuments.

Kelpies are malevolant water spirits in Scottish mythology that are impossible to tame, but if caught, have the power of ten horses. This story was recast by artist Andy Scott as two monumental horse heads 30 m/98 ft high that now stand by a canal in Falkirk, Scotland. The figures have become so popular that a pair travel around Scotland, spending time in many communities. This summer a pair of kelpies is in Kirkudbright (Ker-CUD-brie), near us.

Sheep Races

Every town in Scotland has a summer festival or agricultural show, meaning that on any given weekend you are within an hour’s drive of at least two such events. We had the Dalbeattie Civic Day on Saturday, culmination of a week-long series of events. 8.13.16 Dalbeattie civic day parade-002

The parade started at 1 pm, led by a pipe band.






followed by activities and entertainment in the park, finishing with fireworks at 10:30 pm. I watched them from the back yard, since by 10:30 I was long past celebrating.

On Sunday, there were sheep races in Moffat, highly recommended by a woman we met at a farmer’s market. Moffat’s advantage is that the main street consists of two parallel streets on either side of a narrow garden strip. One side can be cordoned off without paralyzing the town. Sheep race from down one block. Viewers can bet on the sheep and the money goes to a different local charity for each of the six races.

The event opens with jugglers and people dressed as sheep.



How can you tell which sheep is which? Each one has a loony saddle tied around its middle, complete with rag doll rider and a big number. The program has the “names” and “breeding” of the entrants.




Distracted part way along the course

Distracted part way along the course

During the first race, one sheep got distracted half way down the course, but being sheep, all the others followed it. They had to be shooed to the end of the route by the brigade of helpers.


When you get a look at the racers, you realize that the sheep absolutely hate this. They try to get back in the pen before the race. A sheepdog gets the group started with the aid of three people shouting and waving their arms. When the despairing sheep realize they can’t get back in the pen, they scurry down to the other end of the course where there is another pen, which they rush into with great enthusiasm. We bet on three races and lost on all counts, but it was a very funny event. Afterward, we debated whether sheep ever die from fright during the races.

8.14.16 Moffat sheep races-016The town of Moffat has great pride when it comes to sheep. They have a bronze sheep rather than a famous man in the center of town.




The Shepherd and the Lass.

The Shepherd and the Lass.

As part of the annual gala, they select representatives for the year, “The Shepherd and the Lass.” We met this year’s couple at the races.



Moffat is a pretty town, too, very accustomed to tourists. The town center is full of hotels, coffee houses, tea rooms, pubs and restaurants. We wondered where the people who live here actually shop. I assume there is a shopping center somewhere out by the highway. It was another great day.

Ruby Cottage

Our present outpost is Ruby Cottage, on the High Street in Dalbeattie (some say “Dal-bee”), Scotland.


The High Street is not the busiest street in town, and our bedroom overlooks the back garden, so it is quiet at night. The back garden is a long stretch of grass, with picnic table and chairs, charcoal grill and hidden behind a hedge, a very useful laundry line.


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8.2.16 DalbeattieThere is a small grocery store nearby, and more stores toward the center of town.

We arrived in Dalbeattie just before the start of Civic Week. There has been a treasure hunt, quiz night, bingo and on Saturday we’ll see the parade.


Our neighbors are faintly surprised to find us here, staying an entire month. They are pleased by our enthusiasm, but most visitors to the Dumfries and Galloway region come from Scotland or northern England. We get asked about Donald Trump everywhere we go. People express deep skepticism and ask whether we would vote for him. Even though we assure them that we oppose Trump, we get some dubious looks. They have a point, how did it get this far? How did Trump get nominated by the Republican party? It shows that a lot of Americans don’t understand a lot of other Americans–not a unified front to show the world.




Tea in the country

At the Stewartry show, we met a member of the local Royal Scottish Forestry Society. We chatted a bit and the next thing you know, William invited us to tea on Saturday. It sounded like fun, we’d had an enjoyable chat, and it was a chance to get to know someone from the area a bit better.

8.6.16 Dalgonar House-015


We drove out to Dunscore on very small roads, narrow but scenic, and found our way to Dalgonar House.

As we arrived we met visiting family members just arriving for a stay.

8.6.16 Dalgonar House-014

We walked around the gardens, where every turn presents a new vista.

Hugo the whippet was willing to join us for a picture on a particularly attractive garden bench.


On our return to the house we had tea and chatted with Marilyn about her sculptures in the garden, really wonderful pieces. It dawned on us that we were in the midst of move-in day for a family get together. During the time we were there, all three adult children, eight grand children and four grand-dogs arrived. We chatted while new arrivals ebbed and flowed in and out of the kitchen. It was pretty clear that we were a last minute addition to a pretty free-form household. It was a pleasure to be around such interesting and unflappable people, who didn’t seem to mind the visiting Americans. When the last of the family turned up (the countess and the earl), we made our farewells and headed off–just then the sun came out. The drive home to Dalbeattie was gorgeous.

8.6.16 Dalgonar House-020smSouthern Scotland is “undiscovered” in that people ask us what we plan to do, though they themselves may be there on vacation. It is only undiscovered by foreigners, I think. Here are a few more pictures of the lovely gardens at Dalgonar House.

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The Stewartry Show

We jumped right in to life in southern Scotland. During August, every town and region holds an agricultural show and a town fair. We went to the Stewartry (historically, a region within what is now Dumfries and Galloway) show, and watched animal judging

8.4.16 Stewartry Show-011A woman I spoke to said “Are you here for the congress?” “What congress?,” I asked. “The Galloway Cattle World Congress.” “Er, no, just visiting,” was my lame reply. Later I figured out that these animals are Belted Galloway cattle, one of the subjects of the world congress.


There were other huge animals on display.

After touring booths of agricultural machinery, tents of crafts, flowers, carved walking sticks, and lots of food, we ended our day with the puppy judging. Too cute.

After our eager visit to the Stewartry show, we found out the Dumfries show is this weekend, followed by several others. We may have seen enough sheep in a single show to last all month.

Get in the car.

These may be the scariest words on the planet for someone approaching a right hand drive vehicle for the first time. The day before we left Edinburgh, with our rental car awaiting us in the morning, we took a driving lesson. One hour each behind the wheel with Michael, the most unflappable person I’ve ever met. We each had our hour of white-knuckle driving on the left hand side of the road, learning about merging, roundabouts (there are two kinds) and standard speed limits. We survived our lesson and went to the airport with trepidation. Some of the things that you immediately do wrong are to look the wrong way, attempt to enter a roundabout going the wrong direction, go to shift with your right hand and turn on your wipers instead (gears are on left). Then there’s driving too close on the left, and too close on the right, both at the same time!!! Roads are often narrow, I swear standard lanes are narrower than in the US.

I’d looked up historic sites on our route that would give us a break from driving. Our first stop was about 20 minutes down the road at Castlelaw Hill fort, just off the Edinburgh bypass. Not much of a surprise that we were already ready for a break.

7.31.16 Castelaw Hill Fort-009Even in blustery weather, the site was impressive, three rings of earthen embankments encircling the top of a hill, with occupation going back to the Iron Age, about 800 BC, and perhaps even earlier. There is also a subterranean chamber that may have been a hiding place, a storage space or ritual space. Called a “souterain,” similar rooms from medieval times hid priests after Catholicism was outlawed. (Author Erin Hart makes great use of a souterain in her mystery novel Haunted Ground.) It was a bit drippy crawling in and out of the underground room.

We moved on toward southern Scotland. Our next stop was Coulter Motte, a tiny flat-topped hill that used to hold a castle. There’s nothing left but the mound.

After this break, we got serious and headed for our destination, Aird Farm B&B in Crossmichael, near our new place in Dalbeattie. We move in tomorrow. The B&B is great, with bird feeders by the sitting room. We saw blue tits, great tits, a Great Spotted woodpecker and many of the usual suspects.

On our drive out for dinner we spotted a red-legged partridge, a very weird dude. (The photo is not by me).




Dinner at the Kings Arms in Castle Douglas poring over the bird book.

It was great to be out of the car for a while, but tomorrow is move-in day including grocery shopping, so I’m going to have to get used to driving. We split the driving 50-50 so that we both learn how to do it. I still feel nauseous when I get into the car in the morning.



Good to know about Edinburgh

THE Festival

If you plan to attend the Edinburgh Festival, I can’t help you. We are leaving the city before it begins, in part because the cost of housing skyrockets and we can’t keep to our budget and stay in an apartment. Perhaps another year we’ll come for a Festival week and listen to lot of music, see a lot of theater and appreciate the scene.

However, I have advice on a few things for people planning to visit at other times.


7.25.16 Linlithgow Castle-045

It rained most of the time we were at Linlithgow Castle.

Like everywhere else in Scotland, you can experience four seasons in a day. The sun may turn up early or late, the rain may pour before breakfast or after dinner–or in the middle of your plans. Be a good Scotsperson and ignore the fact that there is weather and keep going, or modify your plans enough to get out of the rain by going to a museum or a cafe. Either way, the weather will change soon enough. (Imagine you’re in Portland.) Wear waterproof shoes. Don’t go out without your raincoat.

Local Travel

7.19.16 Holyrood Palace-018

Waiting for the bus.

If you aren’t on an organized tour, consider purchasing a weekly (or monthly) bus pass. This year the first week is £21 and subsequent weeks £18. Additional weeks can be added in many corner shops (pay point), though to start you need to go to a Lothian Buses travelshop because they take your picture and put it on your card. A monthly pass is £57. Bust passes are especially helpful once you find out that there is no such thing as a bus transfer in Edinburgh, and you must pay £1.60 each time you board a bus. A bus pass includes tram service, and service to the airport by either bus or tram. It is not possible right now to purchase your bus pass at the airport, so even if you travel light, you have to pay £4 to get from the airport to the city on arrival (A taxi is about £20). Our bus passes are for Lothian buses, and that does not include every bus in the city. Sometimes you have to wait until your Lothian bus arrives. Overall, it’s been worth a lot. (I’ve rarely been tempted to call the bus line Loathsome buses.)

Visiting the Sights/Sites

If you are a fan of historic sights and sites, you might consider a membership in Historic Scotland. This give you free admission to several of the major sites in the Edinburgh area, including Edinburgh, Stirling, and Linlithgow castles. You get a discount (20%) on admission to Holyrood Palace. Historic Scotland also manages many other sites throughout Scotland, many do not charge admission. I’ve taken advantage of their booklet to identify interesting lesser-known places to visit.

Outdoors–Gardens and Walks

Edinburgh is full of wonderful gardens and gardening. Often a small front garden is beautifully arranged with beds and pots of plants.

There are wonderful walks throughout Edinburgh. Several paths climb Arthur’s Seat and the Salisbury Crags in Holyrood Park. Walking through Princes Street Gardens is lovely and there are more paths around St. Cuthbert’s church at the west end of the garden. There is a trail along the Water of Leith (see my post on the Modern Art museum) that you can follow for miles. Just because you are in the city doesn’t mean the outdoors isn’t nearby. Also, you can get to the beach on the bus. My only caveat: we saw very few birds in the city itself.


We rarely eat out, but had an excellent dinner at Field, a tiny restaurant near the university. Make a reservation, because it seats 26 if every seat is filled.

Outside Edinburgh

Both the train (Scotrail) and buses go from Edinburgh to Glasgow (and other cities). There are websites for each and a variety of options. Train travel is reliable as well as a bit faster and a bit more comfortable than the bus. It costs slightly more.

A Last Word

We left Edinburgh with many places still to visit. Small museums, historic houses, even Building 2 of the Modern Art Museum (Building 1 took all our time on our first visit). Living in the city full time may not be for me, as I enjoyed our walks along paths as much as the big attractions. Who can resist a street called Ravelston Dykes? Or a path that looks like deep woods but actually circles a private school and takes you to Sainsbury’s?




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