Tuesday, January 28, 2014


Scottish Thistle
Among the iconic images of Scotland presented in parts 1 and 2 have been the Queen, castles, churches, quaint villages, pipers and dancers, and ancient stones and cairns.  But other images represent Scotland as well.  In this final post which pictures Scotland  we start with something always in the mind of the Scots who are never further than 80 miles from sea wherever they are in Scotland.  
Portree Harbour, Isle of Skye
Ringing the country are small picturesque harbours where in past times fishing fleets set seeking schools of Atlantic herring (the silver of the sea) or haddock.  

Still today those harbours are homes to smaller fleets who now fish for langostines, crabs, lobsters, cod, haddock, herring, mackerel, monkfish, and hake.  Many of the harbours have become filled with personal fishing boats or pleasure yachts.  The harbours at Crail and Stonehaven on the east coast are the epitome of quaint ports.  
Kirkwall, Main Island, Orkney

Larger harbours at Kirkwall in the Orkney Islands and Oban on the west coast, though larger, still retain a special Scottish feel.
Since the sea is so ingrained in Scottish life it is no wonder the beaches, 
Balnakeil Beach, Durness (in the far Northwest)
lonely and isolated, represent Scotland so much that they became the subject of a movie.  Local Hero, the 1983 film starring Burt Lancaster and Peter Riegert, also stars the desolates beaches of Scotland.  
Sango Sands on the Atlantic

Sinclair's Bay Beach and Sinclair's Castle on the North Sea by Wick.

All along the coasts of Scotland you can find stretches of beach which are both lovely and empty.
Harbours and beaches are just a small part of the Scotland picture.  The larger picture includes the glens, straths or valleys, 
Glen Etive near Glencoe

the lochs, the Highland mountains, 
Lochawe and Beinn Bahlgairean

and the hills

Wasllace Monument and Ochill Hills

--the broad vistas of an ancient land (some of the oldest land on earth).  These images tell the story of the hardiness of the people who lived on and worked the land.  
Near Talisker Distillery on Isle of Skye.

And for today’s tourist these are the images that will burn into their memory, both in the mind and in the camera. 
One thing that helped the Scots survive the cold, harsh, dreich, wet, Scottish climate--and the cold, harsh English rule
Glengoyne Distillery
--is uisge beatha, the Water of Life, Scotch whisky (without an “e”).  Iconic are the images of whisky barrels and warehouses, copper pagoda chimneys, and copper pot stills.
Highland Park Distillery, Orkney

Lochranza Distillery, Isle of Arran

Highland Park Distillery
The mixture of water, yeast, and barley aged to perfection in oak barrels for ten or more years is the elixir of the gods, at least to many.  
Andrew Cuthbert, my whisky contact at J.L.Gill Whisky Shop in Crieff.

Whisky shops also make a pretty picture, shelves lined with the bottles I’d love to take home.  
And finally in this discussion of representative images of Scotland are the people.  
Tearoom conversation, Kirriemuir.
The typical Scot is the heart and soul of the country, but there are many who stand out--I’m stretching to call these iconic, 

Battle Reinactment

Edinburgh local, Royal Mile
but they do come to my mind when I think of the Scotland I’ve visited 23 times in the past thirteen years.
More Edinburgh locals.

Street Study in Black and Red

Whether you’ve been to Scotland or not, what are the images that come to your mind when you hear a Highland pipe band playing “Scotland the Brave” or see a lone piper in full regalia playing “Amazing Grace?”
Sunset in Oban Harbour

Next: A series of travel vignettes, perhaps fodder for a new book.

Sunday, January 12, 2014


Highland Dancer, Portland Highland Games
     Castles, grand golf courses, quaint villages, Highland sheep and coos, and Her Royal Majesty are not the only iconic images of Scotland.  In Part Two I’ll explore a second set of pictures that represent Scotland, Scots, and the culture.  These are images as diverse as remnants of Scotland’s ancient and barbaric past, religious icons, the relics of a farming past, lighting up the seaways, and modern song and dance.  
Beginning at the beginning--the Scotland before there was a Scotland--Anne and I are fascinated with the ancient sites we find preserved by Scotland’s two cultural trusts: Historic Scotland and the National Trust for Scotland.  On the main island in the Orkney chain, several miles north of the Scottish mainland, we visited Skara Brae
Skara Brae Ancient Village, Orkney Islands
--the remains of a village abandoned almost 5000 years ago.  What’s left of the dwellings and their stone furnishings tells us how early Scottish agrarian settlers lived. The village was abandoned in about 3100 BC due to a combination of factors--life-style changes and climate change (getting colder).  On the island we also visited a stone circle, the Ring of Brodgar,
Ring of Brodgar
which still has 36 stones of the original 60.  This circle, one of many we’ve visited in Scotland, is the largest at 104 meter in diameter (you could play American football in the middle of it) and was built about 2500-2000 BC.  Along with the nearby Stennes Stones
Stennes Stones
(remnants of a smaller but taller circle) these stones served religious, ritualistic, astronomical, or all three purposes for the people who came after the Skara Brae dwellers.  On the west side of the island is another stone village, the Broch of Gurness
Anne at the Broch of Gurness Ancient Village
--this one was in use much later and was abandoned sometime before 200 BC. All over Scotland (indeed all over the British Isles) are ancient stones, usually standing stones, stone circles, or burial tombs such as Cairn Holy Chambered Cairn
Cairn Holy Chambered Burial Cairn
in Scotland’s south county of Dumfries.  More modern (in relative terms) are stone structures like the 16th Century Packhorse Bridge at Carrbridge

 in the Cairngorm National Park.  
More modern structures, mostly stone, are also iconic images of Scotland.  Churches and cathedrals, such as St Andrews Cathedral, are the most common pictures, but to us even more representative of Scotland and its people are the village or parish churches. Small villages the size of Comrie, Crieff, and Muthill, within six miles of one another each with one or more lovely churches. 
Comrie White Church and the River Earn

Parish Church in the Fog, Crieff, Perthshire

Muthill Church

 Others such as the parish church at Lake of Menteith 

(the only lake in Scotland--all the others are lochs) are picturesquely sited.  Even the town or city church can be photogenic if you find the right angle.  

St Mangus Church in Orkney’s largest city, Kirkwall, is an example.  
Another picture of Scotland which comes to mind is the isolated croft or bothy set into the Highland countryside.  
St Fillans Bothy on the edge of the Highlands
The north of Scotland is one of the most depopulated places in Europe--miles and miles of heath or moorland, rocks and scrub bush with nary a soul in sight.  
Two views of a Highland croft on the edge of Sma'Glen and Glen Almond, Perthshire.

Perhaps an empty or ruined barn or farm (croft) will be the only sign of habitation.  Lovely and dramatically desolate. 
Also desolate, but far more majestic, are the lighthouses of Scotland.  These are iconic images because of one of the most influential of all lighthouse architects, Robert Stevenson, grandfather of famed Scottish author Robert Louis Stevenson (Treasure Island, Kidnapped).  Still standing as operating sentinels today, the lighthouses at Buchan Ness (1827) near Aberdeen, 

the Mull of Galloway Lighthouse (1830) in the far southwest, 

and Corsewell Lighthouse (1818) at the top of the Mull of Galloway,

represent a Scottish influence felt around the seas.
Next for this description of iconic Scottish images is the lasting impression on the mind (and ears) made by the noted instrument of war, the Highland bagpipes, 
Craig the Piper plays outside Edinburgh Castle in the nation's capital.
and on the eyes the dancing they inspire.  Whether you love the bagpipes or hate them (I don’t think there is an in between), the image of the piper dressed in full regalia or 
Dancers at the Blackford Highland Games, Perthshire.

Highland dancers dressed in colorful tartans is perhaps the purest image of Scotland.

Next: Part Three, the last of Scotland’s trademark scenes.  Can you guess what they might be? 

Wednesday, January 1, 2014


The Scottish thistle is but one of many iconic images of Scotland--those sights which call up other mental visages of the Scottish experience.  Even if you’ve never traveled to the land of haggis, broadswords, and heather certain pictures clue you that you are seeing Scotland or will come to mind when someone mentions Scotland.
In this series of posts I will share some of what I believe are the most Scottish of images, starting with the structures which seem to crowd the landscape, Scotland’s castles.  Whether lived in or recently lived in, such as castles Methven, Glamis, Menzies, or Craigievar,
Methven Castle near Perth

Glamis Castle, the home Queen Mum and childhood home of Elizabeth II. 

Menzies Castle in the Highlands.

Craigievar Castle, lived in until the 1960s.

or ruins like Balvenie, Loch an Eilein, or Stalker, these castles represent the history of a nation whose culture is both violent and enlightened.  
Balvenie Castle near Balvenie and Glenfiddich Distilleries.

Loch an Eilein Castle in Cairngorm National Park.

Castle Stalker on the west coast.

Historic castles, particularly Stirling and Edinburgh, are major tourist draws and bustle with crowds year round.  
Stirling Castle of Braveheart fame.

Edinburgh Castle seen from the old shopping district below.

And yet other castles become picture postcards for Scotland tourism-- Eilean Donan and Dunnottar being the best examples.  
Castle Eilean Donan, seen with hot air balloon as an opening for BBC programming in America.

Dunnottar Castle near Aberdeen on the North Sea.

Look on any map of Scotalnd and you will notice the dots of castles--touristy, lived in, ruined, and almost forgotten--in every corner of the country.
Next, an important image that comes to mind when Scotland is mentioned is golf.  As the Home of Golf, where the game was developed if not invented, golf and Scotland are almost synonymous. 
Anne pitches out of the bunkers backwards at Kingsbarns GC near St Andrews.

The British Open, especially when played at St Andrews Old Course, and this year’s Ryder Cup venue Gleneagles are known to many more than weekend duffers.  Golf in Scotland, though is not relegated to the famous courses, but instead infects the country like a plague--a plague many of us relish.  Scotland, about two-thirds the size of Oregon, has at last count 595 golf courses while Oregon has but 260.  
St Andrews from St Andrews Castle Course.

St Andrews Castle Course, newest of the seven St Andrews Links Trust courses. 

Every village, even some of the smallest, will have a golf course.  
Anne at Isle of Skye GC, where else but the Isle of Skye.

Scenes of golf courses, famous or unheralded, will forever represent Scotland.
Whereas New York may be known for its skyscrapers, Scotland is better known for quaint villages where people still walk to the butcher and bakery shops daily.  
Comrie Village, Perthshire, Central Scotland.

The village of Crieff is our home base when we're in Scotland. 

Comrie in the Autumn.

Filled with little shops and tea rooms, these villages, such as Crieff and Comrie in central Scotland, are a joy to visit to see everyday life in Scotland.  
The village of Portree, the main town on the Isle of Skye.

Tarbert on the Kintyre Peninsula in the evening.

Others become picture postcards to the memory.
         And while the quaint villages of Scotland are home to many Scots, there are other locals you’ll meet in the country--which in most cases is not far from the villages.  Most iconic is the "Hieland Coo" (Highland Cow), 

a hearty breed able to withstand the rigors of wet Scottish summers and cold winters.  Sometimes you get to meet some of the locals in the road, this is affectionately known as a Scottish traffic jam.  

The other local resident, responsible for the Scottish Clearances where many crofters were thrown off their land to make room for more profitable production, is the Scottish sheep.  

So iconic (and cute are the sheep and lambs) that Anne has managed to bring a herd of them home over the years. 

Last in this first part of Scotland images is an unsuspected figure, the Queen.  With very little love of things English by the Scots--and for good reason, just read a little history--it is amazing how much love and respect there is for the Queen. 
The Queen visiting Balmoral Castle (her Scottish summer residence) after a storm.  Photo taken by a Austrian friend we met at Merlindale B&B in Crieff.

Elizabeth II may be an English monarch, but she is The Queen to the Scots and thus an image of great importance.

Next: Part Two and then Part Three...were you expecting anything else?