the hoofindex - rewind to the previous trip (south east england road trip) - fast forward to the following trip (biking in london and man U)

 

Easter time and what better to fill a long weekend than a trip to the Hoof'ess' ancestral lands - and not only that but we had a local offering to show us around - good ol' Gregg and his kiwi chick, Jules.

Bright and early on Good Friday...5.55am to be precise (god we are getting good at the early mornings at Luton airport) we head up to Glasgow with our friends at EasyJet. We are met by our very, very organised local guides... Jules has a full itinerary printed out with all the sights to see along the way, drive times and website printouts. Not only that, but they were neatly arranged in a plastic sleeve. So our grand tour would take us via Stirling and St Andrews to Dundee on the first day. Day two from Dundee via the thriving metropolis of Benvie to Inverness. Day three was a road trip over the Black Isles before heading back south via Loch Ness, Fort William and Ben Nevis to Glasgow to end our Scottish tour. Then we were on our own again to return to Harpenden via Hadrian's Wall and the Lakes District.

 

After a quick stop at Gregg's parents place to drop off the ''kids'' (Julia and Gregg have an embarrassing secret - two pet hamsters) we headed to the very impressive Stirling Castle, where we had a tour from a man in a kilt!

Back in the day Stirling Castle was the most important castle in all of Scotland due to its strategic location... whoever controlled Stirling Castle controlled the whole of Scotland. Its a pretty impressive structure as it sits atop a volcanic crag and is surrounded on three sides by steep cliffs, making it easily defensible. All this plus it as built in the 15th and 16th century!

The Hoof and Hoof'ess with tour guide Jules in the main courtyard at Stirling Castle.

Hoofy had prime position in the front of the Audi A3 and enjoyed riding in style compared to Maude the Ford. Plus the daffodils were out in full force reminding him that its spring time in Scotland.

Next stop, the Wallace Monument, built in the 19th century to commemorate William Wallace, the 13th century Scottish hero. It stands on the hilltop from which Wallace was said to have watched the gathering of the army of English King Edward I, just before the bloody Battle of Stirling Bridge.

One of the mottos of our entire trip is, if you can climb it then we will.

While Gregg wasn't looking we jumped in and had our photo taken with William Wallace....he was not impressed when he saw us posing. Apparently the Scots are not too happy with the statue of Wallace at the base of the monument. This is because rather than resembling the historic face of Wallace it has been modeled on Mel Gibson from Braveheart and the shield on the statue even reads the words "Braveheart'. It was put here for the tourists and the locals are so disturbed by it that it is actually locked up in a cage each night as it has been the subject of several attempts of beheading and regular vandalism.

Spot the tourists from NZ....it took Jules and Gregg a couple of days to spot a theme (or they were too polite to comment?), but lets see if our faithful readers can do it a bit quicker?

After a dizzying climb up a 246 step spiral staircase to the viewing gallery inside the monument's crown, Hoofy enjoyed the views over the Forth Valley.

A smile on the Hoof'ess' face...we must be on the descent?

Wallace's sword was on display inside the monument - its a staggering 5 foot 4 inch-long sword that indicates that Wallace would not have been a small man (unlike Mel Gibson!).

Road trip! Why isn't our driver smiling...he has his race face on!

Julia found us this feat of engineering genius to visit - the Falkirk Wheel. Its a rotating boat lift that connects the Forth and Clyde Canal with the Union Canal. The difference in levels of the two canals at the wheel is 24 meters (or 8 stories). The wheel is the only rotating boat lift of its kind in the world, and is regarded as an engineering landmark for Scotland. Very interesting to watch but so not worth the 8 quid each for the boat trip to go on the wheel.

Having just pulled into the carpark and seen a boat at the top of the wheel the race was on across the carpark to see the wheel go... turned out that we didn't need to rush cos the movement was painfully slow!

Crossing over the Firth Bridge, Hoofy was pleased that we were on our way to St Andrews (for dinner and a beer)

The hallowed greens of St Andrews...

Hoofy (and the Hoof'ess) really liked St Andrews - it was laid back and had a great feel about it. The locals weren't even put off by the freezing cold wind as they played cricket on the beach in the shadow of the castle remains.

Aaahhh, a welcome sight...the Premier Travel Inn at Dundee. Our rest spot at the end of a great first day in Scotland.

Mmmm, Hoofy enjoys a cold beer in the themed bar.

After dinner in St Andrews there was lots of space left for dessert in Dundee. Somebody was ripped off... Gregg had a monster two person chocolate sundae while the Hoof had a delicate portion of Apple Pie. Does Gregg look smug?

And now does he look sick? A very, very impressive effort since he made it to the bottom of the monster sundae! Here come the sugar sweats!

Day two and Scotland turned on a cracker day for us! Blue sky and many miles in front of us...

First stop was the little town of Benvie...yes, it really exists! And it was a real thriving metropolis. The locals did wonder what the Hoof'ess was doing...

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The Hoof'ess was interested in buying Benview Cottage, potentially a B&B opportunity?

After the arduous rush hour traffic in Benvie, we headed north for the Highlands, but not before spotting our the first amusing sign of the trip...

Hoofy hoped that Gregg wasn't going to take it too literally and take a nap while driving?

Now if only we had a silly car game to pass the time as we travelled the miles ahead of us... Welcome ''Wild Life Bingo''...birds of prey, stag, red squirrel, Highland Cow, Scottish Hillbilly, Scottie Dog and the Loch Ness Monster rounded out the set. Five points for the first spot and then one point for each subsequent. Julia was first off the mark with a bird of prey.....this deer that we spotted on the side of the road couldn't be counted as a stag.

This grouse didn't count either...

And while this horse was very keen to say hello to the Hoof'ess when she got out to take a photo, it didn't count for any points.

Scone Palace is another very important site in Scotland because in the grounds is the crowning palace of the Scottish Kings. Robert the Bruce was crowned at Scone in 1306 and the last coronation was of Charles II, when he accepted the Scottish crown in 1651.

When at Scone Palace it just seems right to enjoy an English tea accompanied by a scone... nothing touristy about that is there?

Hoofy enjoyed the chance to sit atop the (replica) Stone of Destiny.

The stone itself has had a very exciting past. For centuries it was a great treasure was it was where the early Kings of Scotland were crowned. That was until Edward I of England took it as the spoils of war. He took the stone to Westminster Abbey in 1296 and had the Coronation Chair (that still stands in the abbey and is still used to crown monarch today) specially made to fit over the stone. In 1328, in peace talks between the Kingdom of Scotland and the Kingdom of England, Edward III agreed to return the stone to Scotland but this return never eventuated and the stone remained in England for six centuries. In 1950 there was an attempt to return the stone to Scotland by a group of four Scottish students, who actually broke the stone and had to have it repaired. It was then surrendered to the Church of Scotland for safekeeping, but was actually returned to Westminster (surrounded by rumors that it was a copy and not the real stone)

In 1996 the British Government decided that the stone should be kept in Scotland when not in use for Coronations so a handover ceremony occurred at the border and the Stone of Scone is now in Edinburgh Castle along with the Scottish Crown Jewels....and all stands under heavy guard!

A pair of spooky ghosts coming out of the basement of the church at Scone Palace...

And the dead awakening...

Time for lunch, where we stopped at the Kenmore Hotel. Built in the 1500's it is reputed to be Scotland's oldest hotel. It was also a watering hole for the poet Robbie Burns and he actually wrote a poem that is still in place on the wall of the hotel.

Kenmore is located where Loch Tay drains into the River Tay.But more importantly can you pick up the theme that the Hoof and Hoof'ess were going for yet?

Loch Tay...

Back on the road again... Hoofy had prime position for Wild Life Bingo

The Hoof'ess spotted this guy and it was decided that he counted as the Scottish Hillbilly...now where exactly does one buy a tartan t-shirt like this?

Mmmm, well deserved Tennents all round (except for the Hoof'ess who still cant bring herself to enjoy beer, that's her orange juice!!!)

After a decidedly dodgy Indian meal in Inverness Julia was struck down (she swears it had nothing to do with the alcohol either), so the Hoof and Hoof'ess were given the keys to explore around Inverness for the day. So we headed over the Black Isle and enjoyed the scenery

Mr Chips and Mr Rice right next to each other?

On the banks of Loch Ness....why does it look like we were on different holidays? Hoof'ess in her puffer jacket and the Hoof just in a t-shirt?

Day four and Julia was back with us and we were on our way back towards Glasgow.

The first stop of the day was Culloden - the site of the Battle of Culloden on 16 April, 1746. It was the final clash between the Jacobites and the English and the Jacobites lost in spectacular fashion. The rough moorland was highly unsuitable for the famed ''Highland Charge'' (aka Braveheart style) which meant the english use their superior artillery power.

The Jacobites were mainly Highland Scots who supported Bonnie Prince Charlie's claim to the throne.

The aftermath of the battle was brutal with many Highlanders slaughtered and those that were left were forced onto inferior, unfarmable land, were banned from wearing the tartan and the clan system was dismantled.

Ah, the tacky tourist mecca of Loch Ness!

The Hoof'ess in front of the powerful Urquhart Castle on the banks of Loch Ness.

Although now in complete ruin it was once one of the largest strongholds of medieval Scotland, and remains an impressive structure, splendidly situated on a headland overlooking Loch Ness.

The Hoof and Gregg trying to spot Nessie in the inky waters. The Hoof'ess was too scared to venture out onto the jetty!

Gregg looks stoked with his Nessie hat.

Finally a Highland Cow (or Hairy Coo)! Hoofy was happy to see his Highland relative.

Glen Coe in the Highlands was absolutely stunning.... reminded the Hoof'ess a lot of the Desert Road on a much grander scale. It right up there with the most spectacular places we have seen so far on our travels, full of steep mountains and waterfalls.

The beauty of the place belies the infamous event that took place here in 1692 with the Massacre of Glen Coe, where many many members of the MacDonald clan were killed by the Campbell's (who were guest in their homes) on the grounds that the MacDonald's didn't pledge allegiance to the new English king in time.

From the back seat of the car the Hoof'ess was first to spot the three stags and gave her the win in Wild Life Bingo!

Well, sadly our Scottish adventure had to come to an end, and huge thanks to our local guides for a fantastic trip!

Here Hoofy is making his entrance back into England, at Gretna Green.

Hadrian's Wall - Even to this day the Hoof'ess claims that Hadrian's Wall is the biggest let down of our trip....everyting else that isn't quite as impressive as we hoped is held up to this benchmark of sucking!

The idea of Hadrian's Wall is quite impressive - the northern border of the Roman Empire, built across the width of Britain with the intention of keeping the ''Hairy Barbarians'' in Scotland and keeping the peace and stability in the settlement of Britannia. Apparently it is well preserved and still physically evident today...but after driving up and down the stretch of road for an hour we found it a little difficult to spot any sign of it! Instead all we saw was windy fields....okay, it was built around 122AD but still expected to see something semi-impressive.

Giving up on trying to find any part of the Wall we decided to check out an old Roman Fort - Vindolanda. To this day excavations are still progressing, but it was an impressive site where you could get a real sense of the workings of a Roman settlement back in the day.

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Ah, finally....here is the Hoof standing atop a piece of Hadrian's wall. Took us time and patience (with the Hoof'ess doesn't have) to find it and when we did we were marginally impressed, although we did think that the sheer cliff on the Barbarians side might have been enough to deter them from venturing into Britannia anyway.

The Lake District was much more satisfactory. Dry Stone walls, quaint villages and ramblers..all very English.

 

We're on our bike and checking out Manchester United next week - go there now!