Saturday, November 4, 2017

A special steam train in the Highlands

Harry Potter fans will recognize the aqueduct which was used in filming two of the movies.  Although most of these photos were also taken from a moving train, I had the advantage of slower speeds than the main commute trains and an open window where I stood between the cars.  

The train runs excursions between Ft. William and Mallaig. For some, it is also the means to get to some of the small towns in between as this area is well  known for its walking trails and b&b vacations spots.  

The white steam from our engine lingers over the viaduct.  At this point we are moving away from it.

The reason I hate selfie-sticks.  Or one of them.   Several of us had 
carefully positioned ourselves for photos of the viaduct, sharing the space and accommodating everyone.
Then, just as we reached our vantage point,  this guy stuck his selfie-stick in front of all of us.  Pleas to
be considerate were ignored.   My photos of the aqueduct, beautiful in its own right, but famous as 
a prompt for the Harry Potter movies, were taken on the return journey.

Typical rock, tree, bracken view along the route

My favorite photos from the train were of this small kirk (Scots for church).  This one includes the train.  Although
the kirk seems to stand all by itself with no one to be a parishioner, there is a small village below the hill. 

At times the sun came out brightly.  Loved the small stone walkway above the tracks.

All the the UK gets far more rainfall than this Californian is accustomed to, but no where did we see more water
that in the highlands where creeks and waterfalls were a constant view from the train.

The highlands are often rocky, though in low spots the kettles left from the glaciers dominate.  

This is a "dual carriage way" running thru the highlands.  

Friday, November 3, 2017

On to the Highlands

The Highlands

The highlands of Scotland has always had a spot on my "bucket list."  It did not disappoint.  Wild, green, wet, rugged are all words I associate with this region.  So is heather, but this wasn't the time of year for that.  

We boarded our train in Edinburgh.  Transportation in the British Isles is easy and since Chris and I both like train travel, this was ideal.  We could sit in comfort, have a cup of tea and snacks as we traveled and view the changing environment as we headed to the highlands.  

The following four photos plus the one of the abandoned stone building at the top of the post were taken through the window of our moving train.  Not the ideal situation but the windows on this coach were pretty clean, a polarizer helped cut the reflections in the window and high speed shooting helped with the movement of the train. Still, there wasn't much time to compose before the scene was gone.

We arrived in Ft William and picked up our rental car.  Chris had some previous experience with left hand driving and we chose to have a car only in rural areas.  Neither of us wanted to drive in city traffic.  I can report that we had no accidents, no scrapes, only twice did we we go the wrong direction.    Once was a confusing intersection.  The other was an entrance to a gas station.  The first time, in Ft. William, everyone was very patient with us.  One pedestrian even knocked on our window to explain what we needed to do.  We had already figured it out, but he was nice and the two cars inconvenienced by our mistake were patient while we got ourselves turned around.  The gas station, at the end of a long day was not so good...people honked at us. It was equivalent to going in the out exit at home, but seemed more perilous there.

  We got so we handled roundabouts okay most of the time.  The great thing about regular roundabouts is that if you miss your exit, you just continue on the the next roundabout at which time you make the equivalent of a u-turn but more easily.  Yes, I had white knuckles at times, yes we had some words.  But we survived and the car did allow us some experiences we could not have had otherwise.  Even remote little places like Tobermory, below, can be reached by bus.  But not regularly and we could not have stopped along the way to photograph.  

 Most rental cars are manual transmission.  But with the issue of driving on the left, the thought of having to shift on the left was too much.  We reserved automatics.  But at one location there were only two automatics.  The young man at the desk  first tried to upgrade us, at added cost.  We said no.  When he went to fetch our little economy he found it had a flat tire.  So, we ended up with the Mercedes at no extra cost.  Actually the smaller one was probably more practical, but the Mercedes was pretty nice.   

The next photo is a view from our room in Ft. William overlooking Loch (lake) Linnhe.  The other photo is Lin in the breakfast room.  Again, a full Scots breakfast.  I began asking them to leave off some of the food, especially the baked beans.  Just not something I want for breakfast.  

On a morning that threatened rain, we headed to the Isle of Mull.  The Isle of Sky was an option, but it is better known.  Mull, therefore was our choice.  It was an all day, round-trip with three ferry crossings, two on tiny car ferries reminiscent of the size of the ones we've used in the California Delta.  Although we had rain, which meant wet pavements and dramatic skies, the sun also came through creating the light I love so much, slate skies and sun.   Our goal was exploration but it was to include the colorful town of Tobermory.  You can see why Tobermory was a goal.  I've included several versions of the town because it was so much fun.

Single lane roads are the norm in rural areas and small towns
There are "lay bys" like the one our rental car is in here.  I don't think they
would work well in the states where drivers are more aggressive, but the Scots, Brits
and Welsh move over smoothly and courteously.  Even big buses move over to allow passenger
cars to get by.

Just after we came off the ferry we
 found this sign.
  In the highlands
we signs were often
 in both Scottish and English.
 In northern Wales signs were always in both.
All that rain the UK is noted for means plenty of waterfalls, rivers, and green

A blog without a photo of sheep would hardly say "Scotland," so here are a couple highlighted by one of many rainbows we experienced in our travels.
One of my goals was to purchase of rugged wool sweater.  I accomplished that in Tobermory, in an old church which is now a tea house and small gift store.  Never know when you stop for a cup of tea and a scone, what you will walk away with.    So here are the photos of Tobermory.  I have dozens, but did weed it down for the blog.  Still, I couldn't stop with just one.  Click on a photo to enlarge to see more detail.

Tide was out when we arrived but the sun was not.  The upper photo was after our lunch, tide was returning and the sun had broken through.

This view and the next several are from the hill above the main street.   These views remind
me a bit of Belvedere, Tiburon and Sausalito, near where I grew up, although folks there didn't go in for
such colorful paint. and the buildings didn't have multiple chimneys'

This row of houses was behind me as I took the overlook photo above. Love the colors.

Two views as we headed back:
Some our most dramatic lighting was on the large ferry back to Oban.  Oban deserved more exploration, but it had been a long day.  Lighting doesn't get 
much better than this.


 We stayed in a delightful old home in Edinburgh, with 14 foot ceilings and more floor space than three motorhomes my size.   It was one of a row of homes, built side to side with  open space across the street.  Occupied by wealthy families of the merchant class, this home, and several others along the street have been converted to B&Bs and small hotels.  At the end of the row of houses was the trail to Calton Hill, great for views of the city.   Three siblings run Adria House which was bought as a residence by their parents in the 1950's.   Here are a few scenes:

Our bedroom had a queen and a twin bed, easy chairs and coffee table in front of  the fireplace (which we didn't use as it wasn't winter yet), dresser, small table and "en suite" bath.

View from our window of the sloped garden.

Breakfast room.   Full Scots breakfast included eggs, local bacon and ham, hash browns, black pudding (a blood pudding with grains), baked beans, grilled tomato, toast, tea (or coffee), juice and fruit.  Good thing we were doing lots of walking.  

The afternoon of arrival we walk around the block (it wasn't rectangular, but we walked to the other side of what would have been our garden, with some land behind that) to an even more elegant street that now houses a couple of  foreign embassies.   Down a long footpath with a stop at the Robert Burns Monument, because no trip to Scotland is complete without paying tribute to this famous poet.

View from the footpath

Robert (Rabbie) Burns Memorial
  Due to incorrect information we arrived too late to enter the The Holyrood Palace.  But we did get a few photos of the outside.  This is the formal residence for the royal family when in Scotland although they spend more time at Balmoral. 

We walked back through the city, enjoyed dinner out and got ready for an early morning photo shoot.

As the lights came on in the evening

The next day we did a walking photo tour.  It was disappointing as the photographer was quite opinionated and  dictated how shots should be taken.  He also repeated, often, that the only way to shoot was in manual mode because all professional photographers never use aperture or shutter priority modes.  That is blatantly untrue.  He raced us along to his designated photo spots, often telling us exactly where we should stand.   We did get some good shots, and probably went to some spots we would not have found on our own, but we are not used to being told what to do and when!

Edinburgh Castle sits high on a volcanic hill overlooking the city.