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    Winter 2019-2020: more postcards from Scotland!

    So, we’ve come back from our winter trip in Scotland though, after one month of Scottish adventures we were not at all eager to leave.  Days are so short in winter, still more in the north,  and time passed much more quickly than during our former trips! It was quite frustrating too that so many places of interest were closed for the season and that we could not do all what we had planned.

    Loch Leven winter 2019-2020 © 2019Scotiana

    Loch Leven winter 2019-2020 © 2019Scotiana

    Sometimes the weather was not fine, to say the least, but that didn’t affect our enthusiasm, far from it  and it would be quite unfair to forget  the  magnificent light effects which often follow the rain and the quality of the winter luminosity which sublimates the beautiful colours of Scottish landscapes. We would have liked to find more snow though, here and there, the summits were white… as for the Northern Lights it will be for another trip…

    Scottish Saltire © 2019 Scotiana

    Scottish Saltire © 2019 Scotiana

    It was all the more sad when we left Scotland that we knew it would probably be the last time we could go there without crossing a border. To think we had arrived in Scotland on that fateful day of December 12 th 2020 when a majority of the British people voted in favour of the Brexit!

    Many did it alas but Dieu merci not Scotland 😉 🙂

    Robert the Bruce statue Stirling © 2020 Scotiana

    Robert the Bruce statue Stirling © 2020 Scotiana

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    Edinburgh Victoria Street © 2019 Scotiana

    Edinburgh Victoria Street © 2019 Scotiana

    We had much fun revisiting Edinburgh in the steps of J.K Rowling during a two-hour Harry Potter tour  in company of François, our very nice French guide and two other people with whom we got on  instantly. Of course François was a great fan of J.K. Rowling and Harry Potter, of Edinburgh and Scotland too and we could have spoken with him for hours but it was Christmas day and we didn’t want to keep him too long. We had been very lucky to find a guide on that special day. The weather was fine though rather cold and there were many people in the streets though museums and most of the shops, restaurants, pubs were closed … the Royal Mile was more lively than ever.

    Christmas time in Edinburgh Museum & Context Harry Potter © 2019 Scotiana

    Christmas time in Edinburgh Museum & Context Harry Potter © 2019 Scotiana

    Below are a few places in Edinburgh associated in one way or other with J.K Rowling and of course with Harry Potter but there are many more and not only in Edinburgh…

    • Nicolson’s Cafe (now Spoon)
    • The Elephant House
    • Greyfriar’s Kirkyard
    • Balmoral Hotel
    • Victoria Street & the Grassmarket Area
    • JK Rowling’s Handprints
    • Museum Context & Harry Potter Stores
    Edinburgh Greyfriars Churchyard Harry Potter Tour François © 2019 Scotiana

    Edinburgh Greyfriars Churchyard Harry Potter Tour François © 2019 Scotiana

    We stayed quite a long time in the gloomy atmosphere of Greyfriars Churchyard, roaming about the old and mossy stones, trying to imagine J.K. Rowling in search for inspiration to give names to her characters and stopping here and there in front of a tomb to look at an inscription engraved on the stone…

    We noticed that at the foot of some graves a pumpkin had been left by a mysterious Tom Thumb, probably a fan of Harry Potter, to indicate the stones where a name is associated with one of Harry Potter’s many characters.  On the above photo, our guide François is taking a picture of such a grave. On this one you can read the name of Margaret Louisa Scrymgeour Wedderburn. The name Scrymgeour may ring a bell for those who have read The Order of the Phoenix (the fifth volume in the Harry Potter series) where Scrimgeour is the name of the Minister for Magic who replaces Cornelius Fudge at the end of the book. There’s just a minor difference…

    For the amateurs of spooky places (and ghosts) Greyfriars Churchyard is open 24 hours a day 😉

     

    Edinburgh Canongate Jerseys & Crafts shop © 2019 Scotiana

    Edinburgh Canongate Jerseys & Crafts shop © 2019 Scotiana

    Christmas shopping… hum… without no surprise, we’ve had to pay a consequent extra charge for our luggage surplus at the airport ;-). No regret however!

    St Conan's Kirk Loch Awe Argyll & Bute Scotland © 2019 Scotiana

    St Conan’s Kirk Loch Awe Argyll & Bute Scotland © 2019 Scotiana

    Un vrai coup de coeur pour cette église !

    St Conan’s Kirk is situated on the shore of Loch Awe in Argyll, not far from Kilchurn Castle (a lovely place too ). When we stopped there we were driving on the A85 on our road to Oban where we had found accommodation for three nights at the Columba Hotel.

    The sky wasn’t blue, as you can see on my picture but the colours didn’t lack charm…it was an appropriate atmosphere for such a building which is not so old as it appears since its work only began in 1907. As it was raining we didn’t linger long in the garden but stayed a long time inside this remarkable church.

    To cut a long story short :

    The island of Innis Chonain, close to the shore of Loch Awe, was purchased by Walter J. Douglas Campbell (1850 – 1914). Walter Campbell was an architect who practised in Lochawe in the period between 1881 and 1906. On the island, he built a house for himself, his sister and his mother. As the nearest church was at Dalmally and as it was a bit far for his elderly mother he decided to build a new one closer to their home. St Conan’s Kirk project was born. The stunning location and remarkable architecture of the church inside and outside, the richness and diversity of its furniture, ornaments and memorabilia, the beauty of its stained glass windows, everything contributes to give this sacred place an undeniable charm… alas for the designer and his family it would be only in 1930, after the death of its designer and of his mother and sister that the church would be open for worship.

     

    Stirling Castle south-east view Prince's Tower © 2019 Scotiana

    Stirling Castle south-east view Prince’s Tower © 2019 Scotiana

    Stirling Castle is one of the few Scottish castles to remain open in winter. A whole day would be necessary to make a good idea of it but after visiting the Wallace Monument we had not much time left when we arrived there. The castle has undergone a  number of changes since our last visit.

    • the Unicorn Tapestries have been completed and hung on the walls.
    • The Stirling Heads Gallery displays some of the famous 16th-century oak medallions which decorated the palace ceilings until a collapse in 1777. They have been meticulously restored  with their lively images of kings, queens, nobles, Roman emperors and characters from the Bible and Classical mythology.

     

    Stirling Castle Old Palace and Great Hall © 2019 Scotiana

    Stirling Castle Old Palace and Great Hall © 2019 Scotiana

    The view of Stirling Castle is quite different by night and in winter than by a sunny day in summer time. We loved it.

    Eilean Donan Castle © 2020 Scotiana

    Eilean Donan Castle © 2020 Scotiana

    We only took a few pictures of the emblematic Eilean Donan Castle.  The weather was awful with rain and a very strong wind. Not many people “haunted” the place… a solitary gull and a few ghosts maybe…

    Oban by night Caledonian MacBrayne ferry © 2019 Scotiana

    Oban by night Caledonian MacBrayne ferry © 2019 Scotiana

    Oban! A mythical place for us which conjures up so many unforgettable memories of our trips to Mull, Iona and Staffa, South-Uist and Barra…

    We took time to visit the lovely little town, looking with nostalgia to the Caledonian MacBrayne ferries, hoping to sail back to the isles soon…

    Oban by night © 2019 Scotiana

    Oban by night © 2019 Scotiana

    From our room in the Columba Hotel we could see the iconic McCaig’s Tower, changing colours in the night…

    This year we’ve added a visit to the local distillery, a forest walk  to Dunollie Castle (under pouring rain) and a short drive up to Pulpit Hill from where you can get a magnificent view of Oban and its surroundings.

    After Oban, the road went on and on…Glencoe, Skye, Ullapool, Aviemore…

    The An Corran beach Quiraing Skye © 2020 Scotiana

    The An Corran beach Quiraing Skye © 2020 Scotiana

    We never got tired of looking at the landscape… still wilder and more austere in winter… here, driving around Quiraing in Skye, along the A855…

    Staffin Island from the An Corran beach Quiraing Skye © 2020 Scotiana

    Staffin Island from the An Corran beach Quiraing Skye © 2020 Scotiana

    The small, flat and sunny island you can see on my picture  is Staffin Island; the house and poles were once part of a salmon netting station. The island is still used for grazing cattle in the winter, the beasts swim across from the beach.

    Staffin Island is an uninhabited islet off the east coast of the Trotternish peninsula of Skye in Scotland.

    The Norse name may have been Fladdaidh  meaning “flat island”. The Gaelic name Eilean Stafainn has the same meaning as the modern English name which is taken from the nearby settlement of Staffin.

    In 2011 it was reported that the island may be the last in Scotland where the old tradition of having cattle swim between grazings is still carried out. Crofter Iain MacDonald, who used to swim with the animals, now uses a boat to encourage them to swim from Staffin Island to Skye in early spring and back again in October.

    “The Hut on Staffin Island” is a tune composed by Phil Cunningham. (Wikipedia)

    Highland Wildlife Park January 2020 © 2020 Scotiana

    Highland Wildlife Park January 2020 © 2020 Scotiana

    Driving south, via the Cairgorms we stopped for two nights at the Coylumbridge Aviemore Hotel, in Rothiemurchus. It’s a very good hotel, serving one of the best breakfasts we’ve ever tasted…

    We’ve wanted for years to visit the Highland Wildlife Park and as it is situated not far from Rothiemurchus (at about 20 minutes by car) we decided to go and spend a whole day there. Located within the Cairngorms National Park near Kingussie and opened in 1972 this vast safari park and zoo (260-acre i.e 105-hectare) shelters many animals, a number of them from  endangered species (like the Scottish Wildcat, for example, but it was too cold for a cat… and indeed not only for the cat…to show the tip of his nose outside… we only caught a glimpse of two watchful eyes through a few branches of tree).

    Among our favourite animals :

    In the Safari Park

    • the European elk
    • European bisons
    • Przewalski’s horses
    Highland Wildlife Park Przewalski horses © 2020 Scotiana

    Highland Wildlife Park Przewalski horses © 2020 Scotiana

    In the walk-round enclosures

    • Scottish wildcat
    • European wolf
    • Polar bear
    • Arctic fox
    • Amur tiger
    • Wolverine
    • Snow leopard
    • European forest reindeer
    • Scottish wildcat
    Highland Wildlife Park polar bear © 2020 Scotiana

    Highland Wildlife Park polar bear © 2020 Scotiana

    Fortunately for us the big polar bears didn’t seem eager to hibernate…

    Cairngorm January 2020 © 2020 Scotiana

    Cairngorm January 2020 © 2020 Scotiana

    We would have liked to see more snow in the Cairngorms but it was cold however and the road was becoming dangerous when we drove up the road at the end of the day…

    So we did it finally : Scotland in winter !   Many many thanks to those who have contributed to make of this journey a truly unforgettable experience.

    We do love Scotland!

    So, à bientôt to share with you more pictures and stories about La Belle Alba !

    Mairiuna

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    2 comments to Winter 2019-2020: more postcards from Scotland!

    • Paul Doc

      Lovely to read your blog and follow the highlights of your journey. You certainly have the best attitude to weather – to enjoy and appreciate it in all its variety. We live here and decided some years ago to embrace every form of weather, it makes such a difference. My wife often says about grey, drizzly days ‘Scotland wears this so well!’ (Even so, over the years we’ve drifted from rainy Glasgow to the sunnier Angus coastline and love it here). Haste ye back!

      • Many thanks for your kind comment Paul and for your wife’s excellent quote about the Scottish weather (we could apply it to our French Britanny ;-))… It’s great to get the feelings of people who live there all year long! When we first visited Scotland in 2000 we were much surprised to see passers-by smiling under the rain in the streets of Glasgow 😉 We do love the west coast and the islands but we also went to Angus several times and with much pleasure… it’s the native country of J. M. Barrie and I remember pretty well how blue was the skye when we visited Kirriemuir… you can count on us to be back soon! We miss Scotland…

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