Category Archives: travel

Rob Roy’s Grave and Dalnair Castle Lodge: Touring Scotland with Ciara Ballintyne



We’ll be staying in the Trossachs as a base of operations for about two weeks. Last night I discovered Dalnair Castle Lodge, and I’ve absolutely fallen in love with it. It’s a Scottish baronial gatehouse in the village of Croftamie in the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park. The village pub and restaurant is a 5 minute walk, and the lodge has that quintessential feature – a castellated turret. Because, you know, turrets are a must.

The catch – it’s expensive. Of course, we are travelling in peak season (which I never do in Australia) so I may just have to accept accommodation is going to be expensive no matter what I do.


Also, it’s perfect. We’re travelling with my parents, so something that offers two ‘main-type’ bedrooms with own bathrooms is a must, and a second sitting room with TV would be useful so they can have their own space. The Castle Lodge offers upstairs bedrooms for us and the girls, with a bathroom, while downstairs offers my parents a double bedroom with own bathroom, and a ‘reading room’ separate from the main sitting room so they can watch TV separately if they desire. So much of the accommodation that is big enough to accommodate us only offers one double room with the others all being twins or singles, so this is a rare find.


Rob Roy’s Grave


Now that we’re settled in, we’ll be off on a relaxed sightseeing programme. I’ve already been to Rob Roy’s Grave, but I would like to go again and take my Dad. We saw some beautiful scenery on the way, and stopped at
Monachyle Mohr hotel for lunch afterward.

You can find Rob Roy’s grave at Balquhidder Parish church in the village of Balquhidder. We never would have found it the first time (or even known it existed) except for the advice of our host, Donnie, at Ballochneck House.


Balquhidder kirkyard is interesting in its own right and reflects Celtic worship for 4000 years, being situated in what the Celts believed to be a ‘thin place’ between our world and the spiritual world. The hill above the kirkyard is called Tom nan Aingeal, meaning ‘hill of fire’ as it was used by Druids as a site for sacred fires at Beltane and Samhain.


The first known church was built here in 1250 by Abbot Labhran; his heirs became known as the Clan MacLaren. A stone in the kirkyard records how the MacLarens were attacked by the MacGregors of Glen Dochart. In 1558, the MacGregors murdered 18 MacLaren families and got away with it! This was one of the factors (along with killing several hundred Colquhouns in 1603) that later led to the outlawing of the entire Clan MacGregor. As a result, even the name MacGregor became a capital offence.

In case you don’t know, Rob Roy was a MacGregor – although since he died in the 18th century, I think it’s safe to say he wasn’t directly responsible for any of the murders in the 16th and 17th centuries. That outlawing lasted a long time, and I can see how a hundred years later you might feel justifiably aggrieved by not being allowed to use your clan name. His gravestone was added to the kirkyard in 1981 and bears the inscription ‘MacGregor Despite Them’. 

Touring Scotland with Ciara Ballintyne


Ciara Ballintyne is visiting Scotland in 2016 – join her on a virtual tour of Scotland and other parts of Great Britain as she plans her trip. Somewhere you think she should go or stay? Please comment!


If you enjoyed this post, please feel free to check out my previous posts if you haven’t already. If you’re finding yourself here often, you might like to join as a member, sign up to the blog through RSS or email, or sign-up to my newsletter. Check out my July Newsletter if you missed it.


Don’t forget to share the love and spread the word on Twitter, Facebook or StumbleUpon (or other social networking site of your choice) if you know other people who might also enjoy this.


Thanks for stopping by and visiting!

The Scottish Borders: Touring Scotland with Ciara Ballintyne



We’ve made it. Scotland. Ah, breathe in that air.

We never made it as far south as the Scottish Borders last time – Glasgow was as far south as we went – so this is completely new territory for me. We’ve just driven three hours from York, and I expect the kids are restless, so we’ll probably stay somewhere in the Borders overnight, do some sight-seeing, and then push on to our temporary home in the Trossachs tomorrow.


Melrose Abbey


Apparently this is the most famous in ruin in Scotland – and yet I never heard of until this year, when my hairdresser urged me to visit.


Apparently what’s remarkable about the abbey is an elegance not found elsewhere in Scotland. It was built in 1136, and then largely destroyed by the army of King Richard II in 1385. That’s 249 years – well, it stood for longer than Australia has yet existed! It must have been rebuilt at some stage, as the present surviving ruins are actually from the 15th century.


The exterior of the church is unusual for its collection of statuary, including – wait for it – a bagpipe playing pig! Other sculptures include hobgoblins (right down my alley) and cooks with ladles…. Hmm.


Supposedly the heart of Robert the Bruce (he of Braveheart fame and King Robert I of Scotland) is buried at the abbey. This is marked with a carved stone plaque. Why only his heart?


Caerlaverock Castle


If you’ve been following this blog for any time you know that Caisteal Aingeal an Bhais, the castle from my novel In the Company of the Dead (release date unknown) was substantially inspired by Caerlaverock Castle. How could I be in the vicinity and not visit?

The name of this castle may mean ‘fort of the skylark’ and what’s most remarkable about the castle is its triangular design. I’d love to know why it was built this way, but the reason is lost to history. It features three defensive walls of pink limestone joined at each corner by a tower. The north tower is in fact a double-towered gatehouse, and originally housed the lord’s personal suite until the construction of the Nithsdale Lodging in 1630.


Caerlaverock had its fair share of sieges but had two of particular significance. In the first, King Edward I himself besieged the castle. The castle surrendered after only two days – but famously held out for that period with only 60 defenders against an army of 3000.


The other siege of note was Caerlaverock’s last. After holding off besiegers for 13 weeks in 1640, the castle was looted and stripped and the southern wall destroyed.


Walking these ruins will be like stepping into my own book!


Touring Scotland with Ciara Ballintyne

 

Ciara Ballintyne is visiting Scotland in 2016 – join her on a virtual tour of Scotland and other parts of Great Britain as she plans her trip. Somewhere you think she should go or stay? Please comment!

If you enjoyed this post, please feel free to check out my previous posts if you haven’t already. If you’re finding yourself here often, you might like to join as a member, sign up to the blog through RSS or email, or sign-up to my newsletter. Check out my July Newsletter if you missed it.

Don’t forget to share the love and spread the word on Twitter, Facebook or StumbleUpon (or other social networking site of your choice) if you know other people who might also enjoy this.

Thanks for stopping by and visiting!

To York By Train: Enroute to Scotland with Ciara Ballintyne




It’s time – we’re boarding a train for York on our second day in London. The decision to travel by train was prompted by the fact I’m told that:
  • Traffic getting out of London is hellish; and
  • The immediate scenery is bloody boring anyway.
Or so I’m told.

We could get the train all the way to Edinburgh, but we want to drive up through the Scottish Borders, so instead we’ll get off at York, do a little sightseeing, stay overnight, and drive on tomorrow.

While we’re in York, I absolutely want to see Jorvik, but other activities will probably depend on time and how we feel. In my experience, optional activities are great to fill in time when you feel like it and to skip when you don’t.

Jorvik

Viking woodturner at Jorvik

Apparently this is a must-see – or again, so I’m told. Or at least so the website says. It could be biased.

This is a reconstruction of 1000 year old Viking streets, I think based on actual excavation at Coppergate, and including finds from the dig. You can travel around the Viking-age city to see its houses and backyards and experience a bit of their everyday life, including blacksmithing and cooking. I imagine it’s a little like visiting Pompeii but with additional experiences. I could be wrong. In any case, it seems worth a look.

York City Sightseeing Bus


This seems like a good optional experience for if we’re tired but have some time to burn. No walking, just a drive on an open-top bus for an hour checking out the city sights. Great for tired kids who don’t want to walk anymore.

Castle Museum 

Recreation of Victorian Street

I would really like to see this, but it will be dependent on time and the goodwill of my children. If I haven’t previously mentioned, we’ll be travelling with our (then) 6 and 3 year old daughters, as well as my parents.

The museum includes recreated Jacobean dining rooms, information about famous Victorian criminals and exhibits all the way through to the swinging Sixties – which, truth be told, interests me less.

The museum has a particular exhibit designed to ‘take you back in time’ with recreated Victorian street ‘Kirkgate’ which allows you to experience victorian shops and their goods, including luxurious fabrics, traditional sweets, and children’s toys. Luxurious fabrics. Mmm. The flip-side shows you Victorian life in the poverty-stricken back streets.

A nice bonus is that kids go free with a paying adult.

National Railway Museum


Possibly a good family outing, as we can take the kids to see trains through history, including ‘the Mallard’ the world’s fastest steam train, the Japanese bullet train and Queen Victorian’s luxury train.

For the kids it features an outdoor play area and a miniature railway ride. We recently did something similar here in Australia and the kids loved it.


Touring Scotland with Ciara Ballintyne


Ciara Ballintyne is visiting Scotland in 2016 – join her on a virtual tour of Scotland and other parts of Great Britain as she plans her trip. Somewhere you think she should go or stay? Please comment!
 

If you enjoyed this post, please feel free to check out my previous posts if you haven’t already. If you’re finding yourself here often, you might like to join as a member, sign up to the blog through RSS or email, or sign-up to my newsletter in time for the July newsletter. Check out my May Newsletter if you missed it.

Don’t forget to share the love and spread the word on Twitter, Facebook or StumbleUpon (or other social networking site of your choice) if you know other people who might also enjoy this. 

Thanks for stopping by and visiting!

Madame Tussauds, St Paul’s Cathedral, Big Ben and the London Eye: Touring Scotland with Ciara Ballintyne


It must be our second day in London by now. We’re leaving for York on a train around 2pm, so until then we’ll be squeezing in a few more sightseeing experiences.

Madame Tussauds


I’m undecided about this. We have one in Sydney now, although I haven’t been, and I’m still considering whether the original London wax museum really offers anything over and above the Sydney one. I’ll have to do more research. If you have an opinion, chime in!


St Paul’s Cathedral


We saw a few cathedrals in Rome, but St Paul’s seems to be offering a few features not available anywhere we’ve been previously! 


Climb the dome – you can climb up the dome to the Whispering Gallery, where a whisper can be heard clearly 100 feet away. Perhaps not the best location for clandestine meetings. A mere 271 steps will take you up to the Golden Gallery and views across London.

The crypt – once you’ve gone all the way to the top you can go down to the bottom, where lies the cathedral’s architect Sir Christopher Wren together with Admiral Lord Nelson and the Duke of Wellington in the cathedral’s crypts.


The cathedral also offers a touchscreen tour and an immersive film experience. Feeling peckish? You can eat at ‘The Restaurant at St Paul’s’.


The London Eye


This one’s probably considered totally touristy, but this was hubby’s pick and I can’t have it all my way. I concede you do get an excellent view across London, and since we’re not going to be in town long, this probably isn’t a bad idea.


Big Ben


When I think of Big Ben, I always think of the clock tower, and although the name is apparently applied to the tower, the clock and the bell, it properly only refers to the Great Bell.


It was also news to me to learn that the clock tower is actually attached to the UK houses of Parliament. Why didn’t I know this? It seems like something I should have known.


The tower in question is the Elizabeth Tower, and stands at the north end of the Houses of Parliament. You can tour the clock tower, but I’m unsure if we’ll want to go that far or just see it – it may well end up being a question of time. What do you think?


Fun fact: Big Ben first tolled on 11 July 1859.


About Touring Scotland with Ciara Ballintyne


Ciara Ballintyne is visiting Scotland in 2016 – join her on a virtual tour of Scotland and other parts of Great Britain as she plans her trip. Where do you think she should visit?


If you enjoyed this post, please feel free to check out my previous posts if you haven’t already. If you’re finding yourself here often, you might like to join as a member, sign up to the blog through RSS or email, or sign-up to my newsletter. Check out my May Newsletter if you missed it.


Don’t forget to share the love and spread the word on Twitter, Facebook or StumbleUpon (or other social networking site of your choice) if you know other people who might also enjoy this.


Thanks for stopping by and visiting!


Buckingham Palace: Touring Scotland with Ciara Ballintyne



Let’s hit the Palace! Because you can’t pass through London and not see the Palace, right?

I’m sure I don’t need to tell you what Buckingham Palace is, given that the official residence of the Queen of England is fairly well-known. While the palace isn’t the seat of government in the United Kingdom, it is the headquarters of the monarchy, and the location from which The Queen carries out her official and ceremonial duties as Head of State.


Buckingham Palace viewed from the gardens
The Queen also lives in private apartments on the north side of the Palace, with Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh. Other members of the Royal Family have rooms on the upper floors of the north and east sides, and the ground floor and south wing is used by household staff. The State Rooms used for court ceremonies and official entertaining occupy the main west block.

Here’s some royal trivia:


  • If you are received privately by The Queen, you have been granted an Audience. The Prime Minister has a weekly Audience with The Queen, and the Chancellor of the Exchequer always has an Audience before presenting a Budget;
  • Over 50,000 people visit the Palace each year as invited guests;
  • The Queen’s Garden Parties are held three times each summer and are attended by roughly 30,000 guests;
  • The Diplomatic Reception is the main diplomatic social event of the year in London and the the largest reception held at the Palace, with over 1,500 invited guests from 130 countries;

You can’t visit all of the palace, but you can visit the State Rooms – although only at certain times of the year. As this is generally when The Queen departs the Palace to holiday at Balmoral Castle in the Scottish Highlands, these dates vary from year to year, and are announced only a few months in advance. 

This year the State Rooms are open all through August and September, which is a long season. Some years it is as little as 6 weeks – and is likely to begin after we leave London, and possibly end before we return. Balmoral Castle will be closed to the public at the same time (this year it closes on 31 July), meaning we won’t be able to go there either while in Scotland.

We won’t know until 2016 if we can go to the State Rooms, but if we can’t we’ll be sure to see the changing of the guard and go to the 



The Royal Mews


A pair of Windsor Greys drawing The Queen’s carriage

As I mentioned in my first post in this series, I had some bizarre notion that a mews was where you keep falcons (you know, for hawking…) but it’s actually where you keep horses!

Yes, it’s a stable.

At least that’s how I interpreted it. The British government will tell you that the Royal Mews is an important branch of the Lord Chamberlain’s Office and provides road transport for The Queen and members of the Royal Family by horse-drawn carriage and car.

But that’s really just a fancy way of saying stable.

The Royal Mews are responsible for the training of the Windsor Greys and Cleveland Bays, the horses that pull the royal carriages – because if you’re a member of the Royal Family you can legitimately still travel by carriage without being laughed at.

The State vehicles are also housed at the Royal Mews, including the carriages used for Royal and State occasions. These carriages are used 50 times a year just to convey newly appointed High Commissioners and Ambassadors from their official residence to Buckingham Palace to present their credentials to The Queen – that number doesn’t even include royal usage


If you visit the Royal Mews, you can see the Gold State Coach used at every coronation since that of George IV in 1821.

The Gold State Coach

Touring Scotland with Ciara Ballintyne


Ciara Ballintyne is visiting Scotland in 2016 – join her on a virtual tour of Scotland and other parts of Great Britain as she plans her trip.

If you enjoyed this post, please feel free to check out my previous posts if you haven’t already. If you’re finding yourself here often, you might like to join as a member, sign up to the blog through RSS or email, or sign-up to my newsletter. Check out my May Newsletter if you missed it.

Don’t forget to share the love and spread the word on Twitter, Facebook or StumbleUpon (or other social networking site of your choice) if you know other people who might also enjoy this.

Thanks for stopping by and visiting!