Day 6: Around the Inverness Area

INVERNESS – STIRLING CASTLE/FALKIRK WHEEL/THE KELPIES

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Interesting—the cigarette stink was gone by morning. The de-humidifiers probably helped.

Our host here was probably the most gregarious of the three we had encountered. He got a big kick out of the fact that Paul and I sat side-by-side at the breakfast table instead of across from each other. (“First couple in 4 ½ months to do that,” says he.) It was a particularly good day for him—it was the last time this season that he would be doing the breakfast-cooking thing. He was pretty happy about that.

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Yep, we were visiting probably very close to the end of the season. How to tell: much lower costs at the B&Bs, and a little bit of ice on the car that morning. The weather had definitely taken a turn for the colder.

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We found a church not too far from the B&B – St. Ninnian’s. There was a small circle of flowers and plants near the church’s entry, and I recognized almost all of them as being part of Oregon’s flora too. Geraniums, lobelia, fuchsias, azaleas, and a lot more. Since we were there much earlier than the start time of Mass, we wandered around the neighborhood a bit. Very cold—it was nice to get back in when the doors finally opened.

After church, we headed toward Stirling Castle. Our new GPS friend gave us mostly flawless directions (she had us go down a road that was blocked off at the end, just the once), and we soon ended up at our destination.

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And this is where I ran out of battery juice for my camera—right as we got into the castle grounds. The other battery, fully charged, was still in the car. Oh well—my phone camera works great. Gotta love modern technology!

Warning: history lesson coming up…

From www.stirlingcastle.gov.uk: Stirling Castle was the key to the kingdom of Scotland, dominating a vast volcanic rock above the river Forth at the meeting point between Lowlands and Highlands.

Its origins are ancient and over the centuries it grew into a great royal residence and a powerful stronghold.

During the Wars of Independence, which were civil wars among the Scots as well as a struggle between Scotland and England, the castle changed hands eight times in 50 years.

And it is no accident that famous battles such as Stirling Bridge and Bannockburn took place within sight of its walls.

In times of peace Scottish royalty came to Stirling to enjoy its comforts, the superb hunting and to hold court – the castle was often the centre of government.

Royal building projects like the Great Hall, the Chapel Royal and the Palace of James V, marked it out as one of the most important places in all Scotland.

Infamous deeds took place here, like the murder of the earl of Douglas by James II.

It was also a childhood home of some of the most famous people in Scottish and British history, such as Mary Queen of Scots and James VI and I.

Later it became an important military base and eventually home to the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders.

Since the last of the soldiers marched away it has seen major projects to return the main buildings to their original magnificence.

Nowadays Stirling Castle is famous internationally as one of Scotland’s must-see visitor attractions.

So now ya know.

The outside had some really good photo ops, and there weren’t a ton of people there, which also helped us to get tourist-free pictures. I was hoping that some of the rooms inside would be furnished to look like Back Then, but there was very little of that.

p1070528Stirling Monument,, which I explored last time I was here. At that time, I was standing THERE, staring over to HERE.

 

 

 

 

 

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There were some cool interior shots though:

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We spent most of the afternoon there, then headed for our next destinations: the Falkirk Wheel, and then The Kelpies. Paul programmed both destinations into the GPS, and off we went.

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That wheel was something! We were too late to actually ride on the thing, but we did see it in action.

There’s a park of sorts around it now, and I also saw kids playing in giant hamster balls—both in the water and on the lawns. Saw a few swans too—not a common sight in Oregon, so I was almost more interested in them than I was in the Wheel. The grass in the park was mowed in circles of various sizes—very Druidic in style. It fit in well with the layout of the place.

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I’m glad Paul got to see the only thing that he had specifically wanted to see on this trip. And we did get to see it in action, which was cool.

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Back to the car, where we put on the GPS and the directions to the Kelpies…and ended up back at Stirling Castle. So now the GPS has a new name—Dashboard Ditz.

Well, we did pass Bannockburn in this direction—that was a boon. We didn’t stop though—no time. It looks as if they’ve added more buildings and such since last time I saw it.

OK—pull over, re-do the GPS…

No mistaking where the Kelpies were from the highway—they loomed over it. Very startling to see as you come around a bend in the road. Now to get to the surface roads and reach it before sunset…

Which we did—only just.

I was out of the car and moving before Paul even had the car in park—I wasn’t about to miss the last of the daylight as it hit these beasties. Moving as fast as I could (which isn’t terribly quick, since my feet hate me), I rounded a grassy hill and was able to catch almost the last fire of sunset on the Kelpies.

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Paul came charging up behind me, and clambered up a steepish berm to a path higher up, and got in some good pictures also.

What’s cool about these huge metal sculptures (they stand 30 meters, or just a shade over 98 feet tall), is that they have lights inside of them. The colors switch from blue to green to yellow to orange to red, and back again. Absolutely beautiful!

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See that tiny person at the right? That’s Paul. Shows you the size of these things.

 

 

 

 

So, many pictures later, we went back to the car and programmed the address for our overnight accommodation into Dashboard Ditz—the Melville Castle Hotel.

Here’s where Ditzy could have made our lives a little easier…

Night was falling fast, so we really hoped that it would be simple to find the address and get there. Ha! Not so…

The GPS gave us two different locations for the same address. We chose the first, figuring that it would be the correct one. When will we learn to never assume…?

It got us past Edinburgh just fine—we figured that the hotel wasn’t going to be in the middle of town anyway. Up and up we went, the area getting less and less populated. I was feeling a little creeped out—especially when the two-way road became a one-way because of road construction.

We stopped at the temporary traffic light, which was showing red. Thing is, we were the only car around. The only ANYTHING around. Just us, with a drop-off to the left and a stone wall to the right…and no street lights. I was expecting bats to show up…or wolves even.

Dashboard Ditz plopped us in the middle of nowhere—“your destination is on the left”—where we saw a closed gate, no signage, and no lights whatsoever.

Um…no.

We kept going, and found ourselves back in civilization at the foot of the hill we’d been on. After a session of do-si-dos with a couple of roundabouts, we made our way back up the same road, figuring we must have missed it somewhere.

Nope—looked the same.

About now you’re probably asking, “Well, what about the other location for the address?” Well, truth is, we’d forgotten about that.

By now, Paul was spitting nails. We went back to those roundabouts, and I suggested we ask for directions. So we stopped off at a place called the Melville Inn. This was also a building surrounded by dark, and a challenge to get into…

Well, it all ended well. The bartender knew exactly where it was, and was kind enough to draw me a map.

When we hit the second roundabout, a sign we hadn’t seen before practically shone at us. Go figure.

So yay, we finally found it! But what a long, dark, creepy driveway to get to it! Nothing but forest on either side until we pulled into the parking lot in front of it.

And…it seemed we had walked right into a Stephen King novel…yikes! It was lit up in its best Haunted Castle looks. Delightfully spooky-looking.

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However, inside it was fantastic. Awe-inspiring. Opulent. I couldn’t goggle enough; I’m sure I dragged my jaw along the floor for some ten minutes.

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The history of the place is fascinating. Mary Queen of Scots was a frequent visitor. Check out the info here: https://melvillecastle.com/history/. (I had no idea until I started writing this blog.)

Our room was gorgeous, and dinner was fantastic. And no ghosts annoyed us during the night.

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